RICHMOND — When Robert F. McDonnell took office as Virginia’s 71st governor, he and his wife were mired in nearly $75,000 in credit card debt, records show. That figure soon grew to more than $90,000 — and came down because of insurance proceeds, a family trust and the generosity of a wealthy Richmond businessman, the records show.
On the 13th day of the federal corruption case against McDonnell (R) and his wife, prosecutors presented the evidence about the family finances as a striking wrap-up to their case, as they began working to connect the dots for jurors.
The records — described by an FBI agent who investigated the couple — show that the McDonnells were deep in debt, used businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr.’s money to pay bills, and did so in a way that suggests the governor knew of the payments.
Prosecutors said they expect to rest their case Thursday, and defense attorneys are likely to begin theirs next week.
McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, are charged with lending the prestige of the governor’s office to Williams and his dietary supplement company, Star Scientific, in exchange for loans, vacations and luxury goods. Prosecutors have said the couple were motivated to seek the executive’s generosity in part because of financial distress.
Jurors have gotten several glimpses into the former first family’s personal finances, but none was so detailed as Wednesday’s. Testifying with the help of colorful charts, FBI Special Agent David Hulser described how in January 2010 — the month of McDonnell’s inauguration — the governor and his family owed credit card companies $74,904.
By September of that year, Hulser testified, the debt had crept over $90,000. The couple held seven credit cards — four for the governor and three for his wife.
Hulser said that the couple’s debt had dipped to about $30,000 by January 2011 — largely because of money they received from a life insurance payment and a family trust. But later that year, Maureen McDonnell deposited a $50,000 check from Williams, Hulser testified. And from that bank account, she wrote checks to cover bills and other expenses, the agent said.
One of the checks went to pay off a Bank of America credit card in the former governor’s name. That would indicate to jurors that Robert McDonnell shared in the benefit of the $50,000 loan to his wife and possibly knew of its existence.
Hulser — describing phone, financial and other records — also provided jurors with evidence that Robert and Maureen McDonnell were in contact during key events in the case. That testimony — which Hulser said was based on more than 300 interviews and a review of nearly 3.5 million pages of documents — could bolster prosecutors’ assertion that the governor and his wife conspired to seek Williams’s largesse.
In one of several examples in Hulser’s testimony, on June 1, 2011, the day Maureen McDonnell purchased Star Scientific stock, phone records show she called her broker less than an hour before she called her husband. She was in Florida at the time, appearing at an event to promote Star’s new supplement, Anatabloc.
On June 4, the day Maureen McDonnell wrote a check for that purchase, she called her husband a minute after she called her broker, records show.
A spokesman has said previously that Maureen McDonnell did not tell her husband that she had bought stock. The governor will probably have to explain, then, what his wife said on the curiously timed phone calls around the time of the purchase.
Almost as an aside, prosecutors also took aim at the so-called crush defense Wednesday, attacking defense attorneys’ contention that Maureen McDonnell’s marriage was broken and that she wanted Williams’s attention, not his money.
Hulser did not dismantle the notion that Jonnie Williams and Maureen McDonnell conversed. He said records showed the two exchanged 167 calls more than a minute long between April 2011 and February 2013.
The governor and his wife — during the same time period — exchanged 308.
For much of the day, jurors heard from bank officials about financial documents the couple filed that did not include references to loans from Williams.
The former governor has been charged with two counts of bank fraud related to those documents. One is for omitting reference to Williams on a personal financial statement Robert McDonnell filed to a bank while renewing a loan in 2012. The other charge, which Maureen McDonnell shares, is for leaving out information about Williams on a loan application filed in February 2013.
On the first document, defense attorneys scored some points when the president of TowneBank Financial Services Group, Virginia Beach Mayor William Sessoms Jr., testified that he did not believe a loan to McDonnell’s wife needed to be listed on the statement, nor did a loan to a corporate entity that McDonnell had not personally guaranteed in writing.
That description matches Williams’s loans, which included $50,000 to Maureen McDonnell in 2011 and $70,000 to a small real estate partnership shared by McDonnell and his sister in 2012. Though McDonnell negotiated the 2012 assistance directly with Williams, it was not documented, and McDonnell never signed a personal guarantee.
The same arguments, though, are more difficult to make on the 2013 application.
Nanette Bolt, a loan official with Pentagon Federal Credit Union, testified that the McDonnells signed a loan application on Feb. 1, 2013, omitting both the Williams loans and Star Scientific stock that the governor’s wife held. But on Feb. 18, 2013 — three days after Maureen McDonnell was interviewed by Virginia State Police investigators about Williams — McDonnell faxed an updated version of the document to Bolt. This one included the Star stock, as well as both of Williams’s loans.
Defense attorneys tried to argue that the application was still a work in progress, submitted to allow the bank to compile additional documents. They noted that McDonnell had made several other changes unrelated to Williams, and it is not uncommon for borrowers to update their financial information.
That does not necessarily make what they did legal. At one point, prosecutors asked Bolt to read to jurors some text from the document, just above where the governor and first lady had signed to affirm the information was accurate. It began: “I/we understand it is a federal crime.”