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Former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell, along with his wife Maureen, has been charged in federal court for accepting gifts from Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams.
The 14-count indictment against McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, includes one count of conspiracy to commit honest-services wire fraud; three counts of honest-services wire fraud; one count of conspiracy to obtain property under color of official right; six counts of obtaining property under color of official right; and one count of making false statements to a federal credit union.
"Today's charges represent the Justice Department's continued commitment to rooting out public corruption at all levels of government,'' Acting Assistant Attorney General Raman said in a news release. "Ensuring that elected officials uphold the public's trust is one of our most critical responsibilities.''
Bob McDonnell is also charged with an additional count of making a false statement to a financial institution, and Maureen McDonnell is charged with one count of obstruction of an official proceeding.
McDonnell confirmed the charges himself in a statement obtained by NBC4 on Tuesday:
"My fellow Virginians, earlier today federal prosecutors notified my attorneys that they have filed criminal charges against me and my wife Maureen, alleging that we violated federal law by accepting gifts and loans from Jonnie Williams, the former CEO of Star Scientific. I deeply regret accepting legal gifts and loans from Mr. Williams, all of which have been repaid with interest, and I have apologized for my poor judgment for which I take full responsibility. However, I repeat emphatically that I did nothing illegal for Mr. Williams in exchange for what I believed was his personal generosity and friendship. I never promised – and Mr. Williams and his company never received – any government benefit of any kind from me or my Administration. We did not violate the law, and I will use every available resource and advocate I have for as long as it takes to fight these false allegations, and to prevail against this unjust overreach of the federal government."
McDonnell returned the gifts, including a $15,000 catering tab for the wedding of one of McDonnell's daughters, in August of last year. He maintains that Star Scientific received no special treatment in exchange for the gifts. He insisted that he had done nothing illegal on behalf of Star Scientific but said he'd do "things differently today than choices I made a couple of years ago.''
University of Virginia Center for Politics analyst Kyle Kondick says this kind of indictment is unprecedented in Virginia — McDonnell is the first governor to face criminal charges.
"Something like this, I think, is maybe a little more surprising than it would be in other states that had more of a tradition of this sort of thing," Kondik says.
The scandal unfolded around the same time as a separate politically embarrassing case involving a former executive mansion chef who was accused of embezzlement and, in turn, accused McDonnell's children of taking mansion food and supplies for personal use. The governor later reimbursed the state.
The fallout seeped into the general election, with McDonnell playing a low-key role in support of Republican Ken Cuccinelli, who lost to Democrat Terry McAuliffe. Asked why he hadn't been more visible, McDonnell replied, "That's a question for the candidate.''
Cuccinelli himself received more than $18,000 in gifts from Williams as well, and subsequently donated an equivalent amount to charity earlier last year. Cucinnelli does not face charges.
In part as a respond to the gift giving scandal, Virginia lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have made ethics reform a priority in this year's legislative agenda. Legislators in Richmond are considering a $250 cap on gifts, a new ethics commission and requiring relatives of elected officials to report gifts.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.