News & Politics

Former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and Wife Maureen Charged in Gifts Scheme

Prosecutors say the McDonnells took cash, vacations, and luxury gifts in exchange for promoting a nutritional supplement company.

Bob McDonnell in happier times. Photograph by Flickr user Gage Skidmore.

Former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, were charged today with illegally accepting cash, luxury goods, and vacations from the chief executive of a nutritional supplement manufacturer in exchange for special treatment from the state government.

Federal prosecutors allege that the McDonnells received hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, as well as high-end designer clothes, golf trips, and jewelry from Richmond businessman Johnnie R. Williams, who lavished the McDonnells in hopes that they would help raise the profile of his vitamin company, Star Scientific.

Authorities originally planned to indict McDonnell in December, but held off after deciding to let him leave office first. The McDonnells were charged on 14 felony counts, including wire fraud, using their positions to obtain property, and conspiracy to do the same.

The indictment alleges that the relationship between the McDonnells and Williams dates back to early 2009 when Bob McDonnell was running for governor and started using Williams’s private plane. The relationship allegedly took a turn in December as the McDonnells were preparing for the 2010 inauguration, and Maureen McDonnell started worrying about her wardrobe for the occasion.

According to the indictment, Williams offered to buy Maureen McDonnell an Oscar de la Renta gown, but the first-lady-to-be turned down the offer on the advice of one of her husband’s political aides. However, she asked Williams for a “rain check,” court documents read. But, as reported in Washingtonian’s profile of the governor’s mansion chef who eventually became the key source of allegations against the McDonnells, Maureen McDonnell had a temper and fired off an email to the aide who denied her that de la Renta outfit.

The indictment states that on December 21, 2009, Maureen McDonnell fired off an e-mail about the matter:

“I need to talk to you about Inaugural clothing budget. I need answers and Bob is screaming about the thousands I’m charging up in credit card debt. We are broke, 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.”

The rain check allegedly came in April 2011, when, prosecutors say, Maureen McDonnell and Williams traveled to New York City where they dropped $10,099 at Oscar de la Renta, $5,685 at Louis Vuitton, and $2,604 at Bergdorf Goodman.

Besides the shopping trips, prosecutors also allege that Williams bought Bob McDonnell a Rolex watch engraved with “71st Governor of Virginia” and paid for several rounds of golf for the governor. Williams also allegedly gave the McDonnell’s several cash payments to cover their debts.

In exchange, authorities say that the McDonnells used their influence to promote Star Scientific’s line of dietary supplements. Williams stepped down as the companies CEO in December.

The asset forfeiture list on the indictment includes many items from de la Renta and Vuitton, six golf shirts, three golf bags, two sets of golf clubs, a silver Rolex, $140,805 in cash, and 30 boxes of Anatabloc, an anti-inflammatory supplement made by Star Scientific.

Read the indictment against the McDonnells:

Indictment against Bob and Maureen McDonnell

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.