A federal jury on Thursday found former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell guilty on 11 corruption counts, a stunning fall from grace for a onetime Republican rising star long thought to be harboring presidential ambitions.
McDonnell’s wife, Maureen, was convicted of nine counts related to the couple’s acceptance of gifts and loans from a Virginia businessman.
The McDonnells were indicted last January after the former governor turned down an opportunity to plead guilty to a single felony fraud count, sparing his wife of any charges. The couple’s legal team then made a huge gamble in basing its defense on the couple’s rocky marriage. Attorneys divulged salacious details about their nearly four-decade relationship and argued it was so troubled that the two couldn’t possibly have colluded with one another to accept over $165,000 in the form of gifts, trips and a loan from vitamin salesman Jonnie Williams.
But the jury – after just three days of deliberation – bought none of it.
Bob McDonnell wept openly upon hearing the verdict, according to NBC News. Many of the couple’s family members were also seen sobbing in the courtroom.
The former governor, whose name was floated as a potential running mate for GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney in 2012, later left the courtroom surrounded by his family, only saying, “All I can say is my trust remains in the Lord.”
Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, which brought the case against the McDonnells, issued a statement saying the verdict showed the couple had “turned public service into a money-making enterprise, abusing the commonwealth’s highest office.”
The corruption trial began at the end of July. Williams, the former CEO of dietary supplements maker Star Scientific Inc., testified under immunity that he gave money to the McDonnells to secure their help promoting and obtaining state-backed research for Anatabloc, Star’s tobacco-derived anti-inflammatory drug.
The jury of seven men and five women convicted McDonnell on 11 of 13 corruption counts, including conspiracy to commit wire fraud and obtaining property under color of official right. Maureen McDonnell was convicted of obstruction of an official proceeding for attempting to mislead investigators, among other charges. Both McDonnells were cleared of making false statements.
Bob McDonnell claimed he never granted special favors to Williams. ”I misjudged Jonnie Williams. I thought he was a true friend. I had no idea he would come into federal court and make false statements about me,” he told The Virginian-Pilot in August.
The trial, which lasted five weeks often played like a soap opera. Maureen McDonnell’s lawyer argued his client had accepted gifts from Williams because she had a “crush” on him. Texts showed McDonnell telling his wife that he was “completely at loss” over how to handle her “fiery anger.” Meanwhile, the defense team has been widely ridiculed for using a “blame the wife” defense.
Terry McAuliffe, the Democrat now serving as Virginia’s governor, released a statement on the verdict.
“I am deeply saddened by the events of the trial that ended in today’s verdict, and the impact it has had on our Commonwealth’s reputation for honesty and clean government,” he said. “Dorothy and I will continue to pray for the McDonnell family and for everyone who was affected by this trial.”
Sentencing is expected on Jan. 6. McDonnell and his wife could each face up to 30 years behind bars.
The ex-governor’s attorney, Henry W. Asbill, told reporters he was “very disappointed but not deterred” and that he would appeal the decision.