POLITICS

McDonnell trial turns to lavish vacations, private jet trips for former governor's family

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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - The government's key witness in the corruption trial for former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell took the stand Wednesday under the cloak of immunity, and he was expected to lay out prosecutors' case in the gifts-for-favors scandal.

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Bob McDonnell outside the federal court building in Richmond. (Photo: WJLA/Jeff Goldberg)

Jonnie Williams, a colorful car salesman-turned-venture capitalist, is at the center of the case against McDonnell and his wife, Maureen. Prosecutors say Williams, the former chief executive of a dietary supplement company, gave the McDonnells more than $165,000 in secret gifts and cash in exchange for promoting his product.

As the questioning started, Williams was asked about his background and why he loaned his jet to politicians.

"If you are a Virginia company, you want to make sure you have access to those people. And the airplane accomplishes that," he testified.

The McDonnells are on trial together, but have their own attorneys. The former governor's lawyers have said he was an honest public official, and the favors he did were what any governor would do for a Virginia-based company.

Maureen McDonnell's attorneys have said she was smitten with the attention Williams showed her with and "duped" by him into thinking he cared for her. They also say she was not a public official and, therefore, should not be held to the same scrutiny as her husband.

During opening arguments Tuesday, defense attorneys said the McDonnells' marriage was on the rocks, perhaps indicating to jurors that there was no way they could be scheming together if they were hardly talking.

Williams, who is in his late 50s, stepped down as CEO of Star Scientific Inc. in late 2013 as the company faced a federal securities probe and shareholder lawsuits alleging trumped up claims for its dietary supplement Anatabloc. The McDonnells are accused of using the governor's office and his connections to promote Anatabloc.

If convicted, the McDonnells could face decades in prison.

Attorneys for the McDonnells have questioned Williams' character and say he has changed his story in order to receive immunity from prosecutors. A defense attorney said Williams may have illegally sold $10 million worth of shares to a friend.

 

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