RICHMOND, Va. — A federal judge on Tuesday sentenced former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell to two years in prison, followed by two years probation for public corruption charges.
U.S. District Court Judge James Spencer earlier in the day lowered McDonnell's sentencing range to 6.5-8 years in federal prison, as opposed to the 10 years previously on the table. McDonnell was convicted of 11 counts of corruption for accepting loans, lavish vacations, and jewelry from a businessman seeking political favor.
"This is a good and decent man," the judge said in the court.
The governor's lawyers had submitted 440 letters from the governor's allies, children, and friends, arguing that McDonnell has seen the error of his ways, that his estranged wife Maureen is to blame for the scandal, and that he should be punished with community service.
McDonnell could be told to report to prison immediately, prompting a dramatic scene with McDonnell bidding goodbyes and handing off valuables and personal items to family members right then and there, or the judge could give him a later date to report or even allow him to remain on bond during what’s expected to be a lengthy appeals process.
McDonnell – who has reportedly been working as a consultant to the tune of $7,500 a month since his September conviction – is the first to face prison; his wife Maureen, who was convicted on eight charges, will be sentenced in late February.
The years-long investigation into the McDonnell’s started with some bad shrimp – the chef who cooked it and was later fired tipped off federal investigators. They soon discovered that the governor and his wife were in the habit of accepting lavish gifts from Jonnie Williams, the then-CEO of Star Scientific, Inc., a pharmaceutical company that has since changed its name.
Williams showered the family with lavish gifts -- vacations, a wedding for one of McDonnell's daughters, a Rolex for the governor and a five-figure shopping trip for Maureen in Manhattan -- and low-interest loans to alleviate the family's financial woes.
In total, Williams' gifts to the McDonnells totaled more than $150,000.
The subsequent trial became one of the most spectacular political soap operas in recent history, starring Williams, the generous pharmaceutical executive with an Aston Martin -- and a plea deal shielding him from prosecution -- and the McDonnells, who used their own crumbling marriage as a defense against corruption. (Their marriage was in shambles, the couple argued, so how could they connive to sell the governor's office for profit? And besides, they argued, Maureen was unbalanced and lonely, craving attention from Williams.)
Once upon a time, the GOP considered McDonnell a rising star. Just a month into his first term as governor -- five years ago -- he delivered the Republican Party’s response to the president’s State of the Union. Two years later, he was short-listed to be former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s potential vice president. A year later, in 2014, with McDonnell under investigation and his party’s chosen successor struggling, Virginia voters elected Democrats to every executive office at the state level.