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Updates: Day eight of the McDonnell corruption trial

August 6, 2014
Former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell, center, heads into the federal courthouse in Richmond on Wednesday as the federal corruption trial against him and former first lady Maureen McDonnell continues. (AP Photo/Richmond Times-Dispatch, Bob Brown)

Former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell, center, heads into the federal courthouse in Richmond on Wednesday as the federal corruption trial against him and former first lady Maureen McDonnell continues. (AP Photo/Richmond Times-Dispatch, Bob Brown)

Former Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) and his wife, Maureen, are battling a 14-count public corruption indictment that alleges they lent the prestige of the governor’s office to a Richmond area businessman, and in exchange, the businessman lavished them with gifts and money. Jurors on Wednesday resumed hearing testimony from witnesses during a trial in federal court in Richmond.

Twitter: Latest | Key players: Who to watch | Previous days: The trial | Photos: McDonnell in court 

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

Maureen McDonnell former chief of staff Mary-Shea Sutherland told jurors that the first lady demanded her e-mail password upon learning that Sutherland was looking for a new job. She looked through Sutherland’s e-mails and then searched her desk for business cards.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Aber asked Sutherland why she didn’t she tell the first lady she was looking for another job.

“I didn’t want to deal with the hell that would come from it,” Sutherland said.

With that, Sutherland concluded her testimony and day eight of the trial has ended. The trial will resume Thursday morning at 9:45 a.m., with testimony from former mansion director Sarah Scarborough.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

Cross-examination of Maureen McDonnell’s former chief of staff, Mary-Shea Sutherland, is wrapping up.

Before he concluded his questioning of Sutherland, Robert F. McDonnell’s lawyer Henry Asbill asked her to describe what she meant in a diary-like letter she wrote in 2012 when she said that Jonnie R. Williams Sr. had complained about the McDonnells.

“He felt used,” she said. She described complaints from Williams about a trip Maureen McDonnell wanted to Bar Harbor, Maine, in the summer of 2011. Sutherland said Williams told her, “You’ve got to get me out of this.”

“I said, ‘Just say no,’” she said.

Finally, Asbill asked her, had the governor ever mistreated her in any way? She said no.

  • Laura Vozzella
  • ·

Maureen McDonnell once accused the Executive Mansion chef of intentionally serving her spoiled food to make her sick for Christmas, the former first lady’s chief of staff testified.

“I remember getting a text message during the holidays having to do with the chef serving her bad shrimp and he was doing it intentionally to ruin her holidays,” Mary-Shea Sutherland said.
Sutherland relayed the incident under cross examination by Henry Asbill, a defense attorney for former governor Robert F. McDonnell.

Asbill was asking Sutherland about working conditions at the mansion, which she said were so strained that she met with the governor’s chief of staff, Martin Kent, once a month to discuss problems.

Sutherland, who stayed on the job about 20 months, said the first lady “was a delight” to work with on some days, but she also screamed at staff and made false accusations against them.
“It was almost two years of emotional stress,” she said. “It just became intolerable. It was yelling, accusations. Nothing was ever right.”

While she talked with Kent about those issues monthly, Sutherland said she had just two conversations with the governor about the first lady’s treatment of staff.

On one occasion, Sutherland said she had come over to the Patrick Henry Building to meet with Kent about the latest blow-up when Bob McDonnell spotted her in the hallway. The governor saw that she’d been crying and invited her into his office. He sat down with her, not at his desk, but in an area with a couch and chairs.

“He was genuinely concerned,” said Sutherland, adding that he also asked her to be patient with his wife because she had recently lost her father. “He asked me to try to understand what Maureen was going through.”

Sutherland said she replied, “I’ve lost both of my parents, and I maintained a full-time job and never treated people the way she was treating staff.”

Sutherland said she met with the governor at a later date, which was not specified, when she ultimately decided to quit. Asbill asked her if she was “fully candid” with Bob McDonnell about his wife’s behavior in that second meeting. Sutherland said she had not been.

“I made a decision to leave, and I wasn’t going to sit there with the governor of Virginia and enumerate bad behavior,” she said.

  • Laura Vozzella
  • ·

A defense attorney for Maureen McDonnell continued to press the theme that the first lady’s chief of staff pushed for an Anatabloc launch party at the governor’s mansion to ingratiate herself with businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr.

While cross-examining Mary-Shea Sutherland, attorney William Burck pointed to phone records showing that she and the Star Scientific chief executive exchanged a large number of e-mails and text messages on some days.

Sutherland and Williams exchanged 15 calls and texts one day in April 2011, when Williams bought Maureen McDonnell $20,000 in clothing in New York and also bought Sutherland a $1,600 dress. Sutherland said they were probably coordinating about where they would meet before the shopping, and were communicating later about the logistics of a dinner that evening. The text messages no longer exist, Sutherland said.

Burck also suggested that Sutherland had traveled to a Gibson Island, Md., symposium on Anatabloc in an effort to land a job with Williams. Sutherland has acknowledged trying to return to a previous events-planning job with Williams as one of her main clients. But she insisted that the Gibson Island trip was unrelated to that effort.

“You did not go for a job opportunity?” Burck asked.

“No, I did not,” she said.

Burck suggested that Sutherland told Agriculture Secretary Todd Haymore otherwise.

“Do you recall telling Mr. Haymore you were going to Gibson Island on a private jet to talk about a job opportunity?” he asked.

“I don’t recall saying that,” Sutherland said.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

Maureen McDonnell’s defense attorney has completed his cross-examination of the first lady’s former chief of staff, Mary-Shea Sutherland.

William Burck closed by asking that if Sutherland never wore a dress Williams purchased for her in New York, why didn’t she get rid of it?

“I put it in the back of the closet and didn’t think about it again until the FBI knocked on my door,” she said. “I offered it to them.”

Then Burck asked: Wasn’t she a state employee at the time she was both negotiating with Williams for a job and assisting in planning events to help his company?

She agreed she was.

Have you been charged with a crime?

“Absolutely not,” she said.

Has she been given an immunity agreement in exchange for her testimony?

No, she said.

She has not been accused of anything?

“There’s nothing to accuse me of,” she said.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

Mary-Shea Sutherland, Maureen McDonnell’s former chief of staff, offered her most vigorous counterattack yet Wednesday afternoon against defense attorneys’ assertion that she set up a governor’s event for Jonnie R. Williams Sr. to help her win other work with him or his company.

Asked by Maureen McDonnell defense attorney William Burck about the connection between her employment talks with Williams and the Aug. 30, 2011, mansion lunch for Star Scientific’s launch of the supplement Anatabloc that she helped arrange, Sutherland said flatly: “I was doing my job.”

“Getting up the mansion event was part of my job,” she said.

  • Laura Vozzella
  • ·

Add one more car to Jonnie R. Williams Sr.’s already impressive fleet.

Jurors have already heard about the Ferrari and Range Rover the businessman lent to Virginia’s first family. They’ve heard the Star Scientific executive claim that he’s just as happy behind the wheel of his Toyota Camry.

And just now, they learned about the Aston Martin he showed off to Maureen McDonnell and her chief of staff, Mary-Shea Sutherland, when they traveled to an Anatabloc conference in Florida in June 2011.

“Mrs. McDonnell didn’t know what an Aston Martin was,” Sutherland said, so Williams told her, “It’s a James Bond car.”

Sutherland said that Maureen McDonnell arrived in Florida with a small gift for Williams, a batch of cookies that Executive Mansion chef Todd Schneider had made for him.

“They had cranberries in them,” she said.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

Defense attorney William Burck has just finished asking Maureen McDonnell’s former chief of staff, Mary-Shea Sutherland, about a series of interactions they had in the summer of 2011 regarding Sutherland leaving her job with the first lady and going to work for a Richmond-area event planning firm, with businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. as a client.

Williams had earlier testified that he believed Sutherland had gotten ahead of herself in the negotiations, but Sutherland said the two “shook hands” on an arrangement at a lunch at the Berkeley Hotel in the summer of 2011.

“He reneged on his promise to you?” Burck asked Sutherland.

“Yes,” she replied.

She agreed that Maureen McDonnell was angry in September 2011 when she learned that Sutherland had been holding job negotiations with Williams and confronted her on the topic: “She was upset with me about a lot of things. This was one.”

Burck then asked Sutherland a series of questions about a draft of a letter she wrote to Williams in January 2012. By that time, she had already left mansion employment and begun working at the event planning firm. It had become clear that Williams would not hire the company. In that letter, she made clear she was upset with Williams and summarized interactions with him that differed somewhat from his recollections on the stand of his interactions with her.

She also wrote that she had hid her job discussions with him from the first lady and had also hidden text messages she and Williams had exchanged in which they had spoken ill of Maureen McDonnell.

Burck asked her if she did in fact conceal the fact that she was in job discussions with Williams, as the letter indicated.

“I did not tell them I was looking for another job,” she said. But she reminded Burck that she told Martin Kent, the governor’s chief of staff, that she was seeking other employment in March 2011. She agreed she did not tell Kent about Williams nor any other potential future employer.

As for the letter, which defense attorneys found saved on the server of the event firm, Sutherland explained that though it is written in letter form, it was more of a journal and was drafted and never sent. She believed Williams’ company was likely to work with her firm on a major Richmond event it was planning.

“It was a way of releasing what you have in you. I need to let go of the anger I had,” she said.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

In interviews with FBI agents and prosecutors, Maureen McDonnell’s former chief of staff referred to meetings her boss had with Jonnie R. Williams Sr. as “play dates,” and referred to the Richmond businessman as Maureen McDonnell’s “favorite playmate,” according to testimony and records from the interviews.

The chief of staff, Mary-Shea Sutherland, seemed to downplay Wednesday any romantic or friendly connection between Williams and the first lady. But at the questioning of Maureen McDonnell defense attorney William Burck, Sutherland acknowledged she had said those things — or at least that notes from the interviews reflected she had.

Burck made waves in his opening statement last week when he suggested his client’s marriage to Robert F. McDonnell was so broken that she and the governor could not have conspired together to seek Williams’s largesse, and further, that the first lady had a “crush” on Williams. Burck used the “favorite playmate” quote — which he attributed to a staffer — as evidence to support his assertion of the potentially inappropriate relationship between Maureen McDonnell and Williams.

On Wednesday, Sutherland seemed to resist any assertion that would imply a romantic connection between Williams and the first lady. She said they would meet privately, but refused to acknowledge Burck’s assertion they met privately “often.” Asked if she remembered characterizing their meetings as “play dates,” Sutherland first said, “She would enjoy his company,” then, “I don’t recall using those words.”

Shown records of her meeting with law enforcement, she then acknowledged she remembered using the phrase.

Similarly, when Burck asked Sutherland if she had called Williams her boss’s “favorite playmate,” Sutherland said “I’m not denying that I did, I just don’t recall that specifically.” Confronted with interview records, she said, “I don’t recall saying that, but I obviously did.”​

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

Cross-examination has now begun of Mary-Shea Sutherland, who served as Maureen McDonnell’s  chief of staff in 2010 and 2011.

The former first lady’s defense attorney appears to be trying to elicit some sympathy for his client and to stress that she was a lonely, anxious woman who found friendship with businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr.

The attorney, William Burck, asked Sutherland if she told Martin Kent, the governor’s chief of staff, that she was “done being a baby sitter in a nuthouse” when she announced to him in March 2011 that she was looking for a new job.

She responded that she said she was done being a babysitter but could not remember the word “nuthouse.”

Burck then asked her: Did she recall calling Maureen McDonnell a “nut bag” in a previous law enforcement interview?

“I have used that before,” she responded. She said she could not recall the date of the session where she had used that phrase with prosecutors.

“But you did say that about the first lady?” asked Burck.

“Probably,” she responded.

Burck continued: Did she ever feel sorry for the first lady, who was having so much transitioning to her role, who appeared to have no close friends, and who was disliked by all her staff?

“I felt sorry that she didn’t enjoy the experience more,” Sutherland responded. “There were so many wonderful things going on.”

But wasn’t she lonely, Burck asked.

“She was the mother of five — I don’t know how lonely she could be,” Sutherland replied.

  • Laura Vozzella
  • ·

The first lady’s former chief of staff recalled how the McDonnells got looped into a prize package at a fashion-themed charity auction.

Then-Gov. Robert F. McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, attended the “Charity by Design” event in 2011 with Star Scientific chief executive Jonnie R. Williams Sr.

The celebrity auctioneer for the event was fashion designer Alex Garfield. One of the items being offered was a day in New York’s fashion district with Garfield, and as he offered it to the crowd, the auctioneer decided to embellish the gift, saying the governor and first lady would tag along for the tour. He then said he’d throw in a gathering at his apartment with winner and the first couple.

“It will be the first time I’ve had a Republican in my apartment,” the first lady’s chief of staff, Mary-Shea Sutherland, recalled Garfield saying.

“The whole thing sort of spun out of control,” Sutherland said.

Williams not only bid on the item but bid against himself to drive up the price. He ultimately won the trip. Sutherland testified that the episode made her uncomfortable and she had the bidding cut off.

Also at the event, Sutherland testified, she ran into the governor near the restroom and he said how unhappy he was that she was planning to leave her job.

“I really don’t want to do the next two years without you,” Sutherland testified that the governor told her.

She said she told him she just could not carry on with the job.

“He gave me a hug, and that was it,” she said.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

Maureen McDonnell’s former chief of staff testified Wednesday that sometime in the summer of 2011, she had decided to leave her job with the first lady — with or without any offer from Jonnie R. Williams Sr.

Mary-Shea Sutherland, the chief of staff, testified that Williams courted her for a position — once calling her as she was shopping with a niece at Macy’s to tell her how “impressed” he was by her. And indeed, Sutherland testified, the Richmond businessman and she eventually “officialized” an arrangement in which she would return to her old consulting firm, Benedetti & Farris, with Williams as one of her clients.

But she said there were other contracts she could work on at the firm, including one for the Richmond 2015 bicycling event. And in October 2011, she said she returned to work there without Williams or his company on board.

Sutherland’s testimony about her own job search is important, because it counters defense attorneys’ assertion that she was lending official help to Williams while secretly negotiating a job for herself.

Sutherland testified that it was no secret she wanted to leave her job with the first lady. She said that, at one point, she told the governor’s chief of staff she was “seriously looking” for other work, and, in September 2011 told the governor himself “my gas tank was empty.” She said her work life with Maureen McDonnell was “getting more difficult” that year.

To be sure, Sutherland acknowledged “it would’ve helped” to have Williams as a client when she left for Benedetti & Farris, and she acknowledged meeting with him to discuss her job search. She said the first lady once questioned her about why Benedetti & Farris was talking to Williams, and “her voice was ratcheting up.”

  • Rachel Weiner
  • ·
(U.S. Attorney's Office - Eastern District of Virginia)

(U.S. Attorney’s Office – Eastern District of Virginia)

Molly Huffstetler, a staffer in the state Health Department under Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, testified Tuesday that staffers in that office had taken to calling businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. “tic tac man” because after one meeting he left behind samples of his dietary supplement Anatabloc. The pills resembled tic tacs.

An e-mail chain entered into evidence Wednesday shows the department’s staff continuing to joke about Williams while discussing a request from the governor that someone in the office meet with him to discuss Anatabloc.

“Yall going to have a hamster wheel set up for me when I get back? Be ready to measure my vitals?”  Huffstetler wrote.

“No, all you will need is a tic-tac,” another staffer replied. “In fact, you should take one in preparation for the meeting.”

Huffstetler ultimately replied: “On a more serious note, I’m not planning to commit to anything but will stick to we will do what we can to carry out the desires of the Governor and First Lady.”

She testified that she could not refuse a meeting requested by the governor. However, she also testified that she took no action involving Williams beyond the meeting, and that she was often asked to listen to pitches from individuals in the health field.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

Mary-Shea Sutherland, the former chief of staff to Maureen McDonnell, vigorously denied Wednesday that she planned an Aug. 30, 2011, governor’s mansion lunch that allowed Jonnie R. Williams Sr. to promote Anatabloc without the first lady’s knowledge or behind her boss’s back.

Although e-mails and other records show Sutherland was intimately involved in the planning of the event, which coincided with the official launch of Anatabloc, they also show Sutherland seemed to do so with Maureen McDonnell’s support. Sutherland said she and the first lady sat together when the lunch was entered on an Outlook calendar, and she sent Maureen McDonnell a spreadsheet with a list of attendees. She scoffed at the notion that she was trying to keep her dealings secret from her boss.

“Were you hiding this event from Mrs. McDonnell?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Aber asked.

“No,” Sutherland responded, with a laugh.

Defense attorneys have argued that Sutherland was fostering her own relationship with Williams because she wanted to leave her job with the first lady and work for the businessman. They have put forward her involvement in the 2011 lunch as evidence that she was lending Williams official favors.

Sutherland, did, though, lend some help to defense attorneys, as it seemed clear from her testimony that the first lady — and not the governor himself — was the driving force behind the lunch. Sutherland testified, and e-mails seem to show, that the governor’s scheduler initially told Sutherland the governor would not be able to attend because he had a radio appearance on WTOP the same day. Sutherland wrote back, “The First Lady isn’t going to be happy about it,” and after a governor personal staffer got involved, Robert F. McDonnell agreed to come for the last 30 minutes.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

Court has broken for lunch until 2:15 p.m. Maureen McDonnell’s former chief of staff, Mary-Shea Sutherland, was in the middle of testifying about a series of e-mails in which she, in the words of a prosecutor, “pushed back” against a press release Star Scientific intended to release about the lunch they were holding at the governor’s mansion.

“NO WAY this can go out as written,” Sutherland wrote in 2011 to a Star employee.

Sutherland testified that the release had indicated that the governor and first lady were launching Jonnie R. Williams’s product Anatabloc even though the company had been informed they could not include that kind of information. She forwarded the release to the governor’s staff for his review.

Wednesday’s lunch break will last a full 75 minutes — 15 minutes longer than Judge James R. Spencer generally allows. He announced to the jury that he had another matter scheduled in his courtroom for 1 p.m. and would allow the longer lunch to ensure his staff also received a lunch break. “You know, we’re working here,” he told them, to laughs.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

On Aug. 1, 2011, Maureen McDonnell met with Jonnie R. Williams Sr. and a state health official at the governor’s mansion. The official testified Tuesday that it had been the governor’s request that someone from her office attend that meeting.

The first lady’s chief of staff Mary-Shea Sutherland has just testified that she greeted the health official but did not attend that meeting. However, she said sat in for portions of a subsequent meeting that the first lady and Williams had with the director of clinical research at Virginia Commonwealth University.

That VCU official, John Clore, said Tuesday that he could not remember if Williams was present for that session and that the first lady generally discussed health initiatives. But prosecutors just introduced notes Sutherland took at the meeting. She testified Williams was there and her notes show the group discussed state grants available for research, including the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth. They did not show specific discussion of Williams’s product Anatabloc or its key compound anatabine. But Sutherland said she was present for multiple conversations with the first lady in which Williams discussed his desire to seek state funding to study his product at U-Va. or VCU.

Sutherland said conversations along those lines occurred in Maureen McDonnell’s presence more than once but fewer than a dozen times. Never, she testified, did the first lady express any hesitation. “She thought it made sense,” she said.

  • Laura Vozzella
  • ·

Maureen McDonnell drew up a seating chart for her 35th wedding anniversary party and placed Jonnie R. Williams Sr. right next to her daughter Rachel.

The idea was for the Star Scientific executive to get to know Rachel at the 2011 party and include her in a shopping spree like the one Williams had treated the first lady to in April of that year, according to Maureen McDonnell’s former chief of staff, Mary-Shea Sutherland.

“She wanted to organize a second shopping trip and wanted to bring Rachel,” Sutherland testified.

At the party, Maureen McDonnell wore a dress and sweater that Williams had purchased on that first trip, when he lavished her with $20,000 in designer clothing.

Although Sutherland was not asked about it, the party itself was free for the McDonnells, The Washington Post has previously reported.

Barboursville Vineyards allowed then-Gov. Robert F. McDonnell and his wife to host the party at the vineyard for free as a thank-you for the state’s help in negotiating a deal to sell wine in China.

The party for about 100 close friends and relatives took place just a few hours after the couple participated in the 2011 signing ceremony for the China deal at the vineyard.

McDonnell (R) disclosed the gift on his mandatory annual disclosure form for 2011, indicating that the vineyard near Charlottesville had given him $3,000 worth of “lodging and entertainment.”

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

Maureen McDonnell’s former chief of staff, Mary-Shea Sutherland, has testified that it was her understanding that the McDonnell’s daughter Rachel drove a Range Rover owned by Jonnie R. Williams Sr. to and from a family vacation at Williams’s lake house in July 2011.

That was the same trip where the governor drove a Ferrari owned by Williams. A prosecutor showed Sutherland an e-mail exchange she had with Williams’s assistant the day after the family returned, in which they discussed that it was to be Sutherland’s responsibility to return the Range Rover to Williams. She testified that drove the SUV from the governor’s mansion to Williams’s office in the Richmond suburbs while she was followed by the family’s butler.

  • Matthew Zapotosky
  • ·

When the $15,000 that Jonnie R. Williams Sr. put toward catering at Cailin McDonnell’s wedding turned out to be too much, the refund went back not to him or the governor’s daughter, but to the governor’s wife, who “hoped it would be more,” the first lady’s former chief of staff testified Wednesday.

The revelation by Mary-Shea Sutherland casts doubt on the idea that the check was a wedding present to Cailin, or, at the very least, suggests Maureen McDonnell intervened to direct the money her way. The chief of staff, Mary-Shea Sutherland, said she told the governor’s chief of staff about the first lady’s receiving the overage, and said Maureen McDonnell made clear to her the check “was made out to her, and she was depositing it in her account.”​

“It was a large amount from a donor, and I didn’t want to be the only person with knowledge of it,” Sutherland said.

Cailin McDonnell has testified previously that her father, then-Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, was upset when he learned his wife had received the overage, and she has said her mom then directed it to her.

  • Rosalind S. Helderman
  • ·

Maureen McDonnell’s former chief of staff, Mary-Shea Sutherland, said the first lady told her the couple were experiencing financial difficulties, “that they were buried in debt,” Sutherland testified.

She said McDonnell said the couple was underwater on their home in the Richmond suburbs and that rents were not covering the mortgages on two beach homes the couple had purchased in Virginia Beach as investment properties.

In June 2011, Maureen McDonnell asked her employee for a loan. Sutherland said the first lady said she needed the money to “cover a stock purchase” she had made. That was right around the time that the first lady purchased $30,000 worth of stock in Jonnie R. Williams Sr.’s company Star Scientific. The first lady told Williams she used a portion of the $50,000 he had loaned her in May.

Sutherland said the first lady told her she intended to distribute shares of this stock to her children and, indeed, Sutherland said she observed Maureen McDonnell on the phone with her stock broker in a hotel room while the two were in Florida attending a Star event.

Two months later, the first lady paid Sutherland back with another $6,000 check.

Sutherland was asked, did the first lady ever ask you to keep her stock purchase a secret from her husband? “Not that I recall,” she said.

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