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Key witness testifies in ex-governor's trial

July 30, 2014
Associated Press

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The government's key witness in the corruption trial for former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife testified Wednesday under the cloak of immunity, saying he gave them money because it was a business relationship, not because they were friends.

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, cash and loans in exchange for promoting his product.

Williams testimony was wide-ranging, as he talked about helping to cure his wife's cancer, finding an inaugural dress for the former first lady and the first time he loaned the McDonnells money. He said the former first lady asked for a $50,000 loan because the couple was in financial trouble and she wanted $15,000 to help with their daughter's wedding reception.

Asked by the prosecutor if Williams gave the money because they were friends, he said: "This was a business relationship."

He also testified about loaning 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 said.

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.

Williams testimony was scheduled to continue Thursday.

 
 

 

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