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Maureen McDonnell Sentenced On Corruption Charges

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This May 5, 2011 photo provided by the office of the Governor of Virginia shows Jonnie Williams, right, and Virginia first lady Maureen McDonnell, left, during a reception for the NASCAR race at the Executive Mansion in Richmond, Va. Former executive assistant for Mrs. McDonnell, Mary Shea Sutherland, center, listens to the conversation.
(AP Photo/Office of the Governor of Virginia, Michaele White)
This May 5, 2011 photo provided by the office of the Governor of Virginia shows Jonnie Williams, right, and Virginia first lady Maureen McDonnell, left, during a reception for the NASCAR race at the Executive Mansion in Richmond, Va. Former executive assistant for Mrs. McDonnell, Mary Shea Sutherland, center, listens to the conversation.

Update, 1:50 p.m.:

U.S. District Judge James Spencer is sentencing former First Lady Maureen McDonnell to a year and a day in prison.

The sentence is half of what former Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell got last month, when Judge Spencer issued a sentence of two years to the former governor. At the time, he said Maureen McDonnell let the serpent into the garden, opening the door of the governor's mansion to a wealthy businessman who was trying to buy power and influence.

In the end, Spencer ended up finding a middle ground between what prosecutors were calling for — 18 months — and what defense attorneys said was appropriate: 4,000 hours of community service.

Although she did not testify during the trial, Maureen McDonnell broke her silence Friday. Fighting back tears, she told the judge that she takes full responsibility for taking bribes from businessman Jonnie Williams, adding that the "venom from that snake has poisoned my marriage, has poisoned my family and has poisoned the commonwealth that I love."

Update, 1:30 p.m.:

McDonnell has been sentenced to one year and one day for conspiring to lend the prestige of the governor’s office to Richmond businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. in exchange for loans, vacations and luxury items.

Original story:

Maureen McDonnell, the wife of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell is headed back to court this morning to be sentenced today by U.S. District Judge James Spencer for her role in the corruption case that landed on the commonwealth's former first couple.

Maureen McDonnell was never an elected official, but she was at the heart of the prosecutors case against the former governor — a case that included evidence and testimony about a wealthy Virginia businessman who began his relationship with the McDonnells by offering to buy her a Oscar de la Renta dress for the inauguration.

She was also at the heart of the defense team's unsuccessful strategy, which was that she could not have conspired with her husband because their marriage was falling apart and she was barely on speaking terms with him.

"Part of the argument that the judge made in going lighter on Bob McDonnell seemed to be that the judge sort of bought of Bob McDonnell's defense team, which is that he has a record of public service and that these charges were out of character," says Quentin Kidd, professor at Christopher Newport University.

"If you buy all that then you have to buy necessarily the next part of the McDonnell defense team's argument, which is that his wife did it all," he adds.

That could mean prison time for the former First Lady of Virginia. Prosecutors are calling for Maureen McDonnell to get an 18-month prison sentence, but defense attorneys say 4,000 hours of community service would be an appropriate sentence. Judge Spencer will hear both sides today and then make a ruling.

"It would be very surprising if she got anything more than the 18 months that the government is asking for. I think it is quite possible that she will get less than that," says white-collar defense attorney Michael Levy. "I think the most likely outcome is something along the lines of a year and a day in prison, but certainly anything from a 18 months in prison to a term of probation is possible."

Last month, the judge gave the former governor a two-year sentence for 11 counts. His wife will be sentenced on eight counts, because she was never an elected official she won't be penalized for abusing her office.

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