Convicted Virginia Governor Loses Appeal
By Patrick Wilson
An appeals court on Friday upheld the corruption conviction of former Gov. Bob McDonnell in a decision that one analyst said makes it "highly likely" he will go to prison.
"Appellant received a fair trial and was duly convicted by a jury of his fellow Virginians. We have no cause to undo what has been done," reads an 89-page opinion from three judges of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
A federal jury last year convicted McDonnell and his wife, Maureen McDonnell, on multiple counts of corruption in a gifts scandal. They acknowledged accepting lavish vacations, gifts and loans from businessman Jonnie Williams, who testified against them.
Appeals Judges Diana Gribbon Motz, Robert King and Stephanie Thacker said that prosecutors presented evidence McDonnell had "corrupt intent" and proved he used the power of the governor's office to influence governmental decisions after making a corrupt agreement with Williams, who was expecting something in return for his gifts.
"With respect to the official acts alleged by the Government, a 'quo' came on the heels of each 'quid,'?" the judges wrote, citing detailed examples.
"They basically take a hammer and a very large nail and just go bang, bang, bang," said Alan Albert, a former state government official who now practices federal criminal defense.
Bob McDonnell has maintained that although he made mistakes, he did not break the law. Federal prosecutors, however, argued his actions were the very definition of public corruption. A jury found that the McDonnells took action on behalf of Williams in exchange for the gifts and money.
A judge sentenced Bob McDonnell to two years in prison and his wife to one year and a day. They were allowed to remain free while their cases are on appeal.
"It's likely that he will file a petition for rehearing before the entire 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals," Albert said. Petitions for rehearing en banc are extremely rare, Albert said. McDonnell has 14 days to file.
To be granted a rehearing, McDonnell would need support from a majority of the 15 active judges on the court. Albert said it's "highly likely" McDonnell will end up serving his sentence.
McDonnell issued a statement through spokesman Blois Olson: "I am greatly disappointed with the Court's decision today. During my nearly 40 years of public service, I have never violated my oath of office nor disregarded the law.
"I remain highly confident in the justice system and the grace of our God that full vindication will come in time. I remain very blessed to have the unwavering support of my family and great friends which continues to sustain me."
His lawyers said in a statement they will "continue to pursue all legal options."
"There will be no further comment or interviews at this time," Olson said in an email to the press.
Bob McDonnell was convicted of 11 counts of corruption during a trial lasting nearly six weeks.
In his appeal, he argued that Judge James Spencer misstated the law in jury instructions and defined bribery too expansively in an instruction. He also argued that the evidence did not show corruption and that his trial should have been conducted separately from his wife's.
Evidence showed the first couple accepted about $177,000 in gifts and loans from Williams while in office. It came at a time when they were in financial difficulty.
McDonnell and his sister, whose name is also Maureen, had an outstanding loan balance of nearly $2.5 million related to their rental property business in Virginia Beach.
In September of 2010, Bob McDonnell and his wife had credit card debt of $90,000.
Williams wanted state-backed research for a dietary supplement he was promoting. He began showering the first couple with gifts and loans while also saying he needed testing done in Virginia.
In one shopping spree in New York, Williams spent $20,000 on Maureen McDonnell and then was seated with the McDonnells at a political rally.
During a vacation, Williams allowed the McDonnells to stay at his home at Smith Mountain Lake. In what became a symbol of the largesse, Bob McDonnell drove back to Richmond in Williams' Ferrari while Maureen snapped pictures of him and emailed one of the photos to Williams.
Prosecutors said the timeline of those gifts and vacations in conjunction with the McDonnells promotion of William's dietary supplement from the governor's mansion violated the law.
Bob McDonnell's defense during trial blamed his wife, who did not testify. She stands convicted of eight counts of corruption. The appellate court has not yet ruled in her case.
Williams was granted immunity from prosecution for his testimony.
The scandal continues to affect politics in Virginia. State lawmakers in 2014 and again this year changed the laws on ethics and conflicts of interest to limit the value of gifts they can accept from lobbyists.
McDonnell's appeal was backed by numerous attorneys general from Virginia and other states from both parties who argued that federal law is too broad. State lawmakers and people from business and other institutions also backed him in amicus briefs.
State Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, said he was disappointed in the ruling and wants McDonnell to appeal.
"This issue ultimately, I believe, needs to be decided by the Supreme Court," Wagner said.
U.S. Attorney Dana Boente said in a statement he was pleased with the ruling.
(c)2015 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)