RICHMOND, Va. — Bob McDonnell had just been elected governor of Virginia when a wealthy businessman who had donated the use of his private jet during the Republican’s campaign requested a meeting at the Four Seasons Hotel in New York.
The governor-elect obliged and brought along his wife, Maureen, who told Jonnie Williams she needed a dress for the inauguration the following month, according to a federal indictment charging the couple with corruption and lying to investigators.
Williams agreed to buy her an Oscar de la Renta gown, but a Bob McDonnell aide said it would be inappropriate and nixed the idea, according to the indictment.
Peeved, the former Washington Redskins cheerleader and future first lady fired off an email to the staffer.
“I need to talk to you about Inaugural clothing budget,” the email said. “I need answers and Bob is screaming about the thousands I’m charging up in credit card debt. We are broke and have an unconscionable amount in credit card debt already and this Inaugural is killing us!! I need answers and I need help, and I need to get this done.”
She ultimately told Williams, then the CEO of dietary supplement maker Star Scientific Inc., she could not accept the dress but would take a “rain check.”
That scenario played out in December 2009, according to the indictment, and was allegedly the start of a four-year pattern of Virginia’s first couple squeezing gifts and loans out of a benefactor who expected them to promote his company’s products in return.
The indictment suggested the McDonnells cashed in that first rain check many times over: shopping sprees for designer clothes for Maureen McDonnell, a vacation stay at Williams’ multimillion-dollar Smith Mountain Lake retreat, $70,000 in loans for a family real estate venture, $15,000 in catering expenses for a daughter’s wedding and golf outings for the governor and family members.
The government alleges there were other instances of the McDonnells using their influence to help Williams’ company, including hosting an Executive Mansion reception for Star Scientific to launch its signature product with university researchers in attendance.
Twelve of the 14 counts in the indictment are punishable by up to 20 years in prison, two by up to 30 years. Possible fines range from $250,000 to $1 million.
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