As early as 2012, Virginia State Police pondered whether a Richmond area businessman could help further their corruption probe of then-Gov. Robert F. McDonnell and his wife, documents show.
The businessman, Jonnie R. Williams Sr., is a key witness in the federal corruption case against the couple, who were charged early this year with lending Williams the prestige of the governor’s office in exchange for gifts and money. But according to a state police investigator’s notes, the probe was centered on him as early as May 2012 — nearly a year before the case became public and nearly two years before the McDonnells were charged.
“Use Williams to go after McDonnells?” Virginia State Police Special Agent Charles Hagan wrote in notes from a meeting that month.
The notes, filed Friday as part of the defense attorneys’ bid to subpoena more police records in the case, also reveal that the gifts and other alleged misdeeds state police investigated extend beyond what federal prosecutors alleged in an indictment early this year.
Hagan’s notes show that state police were curious about Maureen McDonnell’s stay at a Florida Ritz-Carlton that Williams allegedly funded, and they mention clothes Maureen McDonnell allegedly got for free from a Jos. A. Bank store. They also say that police wanted to investigate a claim that Maureen McDonnell told a manager not to reveal to her children: that Williams had picked up the catering tab for her daughter’s wedding.
If true, the claim would seriously undercut Robert McDonnell’s repeated contention that the payment was a wedding gift from Williams to his daughter, not to the former Republican governor and his wife, and that he therefore did not need to disclose it.
The document also shows that state police were investigating whether the McDonnells received items from a Richmond-based furniture and knickknack company called Evergreen. Hagan wrote that the items may have included furniture as well as suits for the governor prior to a trade mission to China. If McDonnell received those items as gifts — free of charge — he did not disclose them on his annual financial statements.
Meade Spotts, an attorney for Evergreen, declined to directly address whether the company has ever given gifts to the McDonnells. However, he described the Chinese American-owned business’s interactions with the McDonnells as similar to those with previous governors who have taken trade missions to China.
“Evergreen has cooperated in every manner possible,” Spotts said. “There was never any time that they needed anything from the state. It was quite the reverse. . . . Everything they have done has been to ensure successful trade missions and help market the state’s products in China.”
“Evergreen is the anti-Jonnie Williams,” he added.
The notes also include a list of questions that investigators set out to answer, including some that centered around the issue at the heart of the case: Did McDonnell use the power of his office to benefit Williams in return for gifts?
“Is financial transactions/flights to Maureen made as surrogate for the Governor,” Hagan wrote under the heading “Additional Investigation.”
Later, he wrote: “Money to Maureen McDonnell not illegal. Possible loophole. Gov not required to list gifts to spouse.”
To substantiate the corruption charges, prosecutors must prove that the governor and his wife took “official acts” to help Williams and Star Scientific, a struggling dietary supplement company that Williams used to run. McDonnell’s attorneys have argued that what prosecutors allege McDonnell did for Williams — including arranging meetings between Williams and state officials and promoting Williams and his company — did not constitute promising to perform or actually performing “official acts.”
McDonnell’s attorneys initially sought to file the notes under seal — writing that they thought they were bound to do so by a protective order they agreed to with prosecutors — but federal Judge James R. Spencer rejected that bid. The McDonnells have pleaded not guilty to the corruption charges, and a trial is scheduled for July 28.