Former Republican Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell rejected a plea deal last December in which he would have fallen on his sword to plead guilty to one felony fraud charge, avoid trial, and spare his wife all criminal charges.
On Tuesday, McDonnell and his wife were indicted on 14 felony counts related to public corruption. McDonnell will be arraigned on Friday. If convicted of all charges, he faces a maximum of 80 years in prison and over $1.25 million in fines.
During the summer, McDonnell’s wife Maureen reportedly asked her lawyer “whether the case could be resolved without charges for her husband” while they were being investigated for accepting lavish gifts from Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams. According to The Washington Post, “prosecutors showed no interest” and months later proposed that then-Gov. McDonnell “plead guilty to one felony fraud charge that had nothing to do with corruption in office and his wife would avoid charges altogether.”
Bob McDonnell rejected that offer, which “would have allowed the McDonnells to avoid the release of embarrassing details in an indictment” and a “bruising public trial” the Post says would “likely put the internal dynamics of their marriage on full display.”
During the investigation, lawyers for the McDonnells reportedly said that McDonnell’s wife “actively worked” to hide the generosity of Williams from her husband. Prosecutors will have to prove that McDonnell “agreed to provide his official help to Williams in exchange for his largesse” since his wife did not have a formal position in government.
McDonnell insisted on Tuesday that he never promised or gave Williams any benefit in exchange for his gifts to his wife and himself and said that he had not done anything illegal. He only referred to himself in his statements and did not say anything about his wife.
Legal experts “said the former first lady could attempt to shoulder blame as a way of trying to persuade a jury that neither McDonnell took illegal actions,” and a white collar defense lawyer said that it may be in the best interest of the former governor “to put distance between himself and his wife” so that McDonnell can essentially convince the jury that he “can’t keep track of everything she buys” or what is given to her.