The Tawdriness of the McDonnells' Alleged Corruption

The Tawdriness of the McDonnells' Alleged Corruption

Reading the 43-page indictment of Bob and Maureen McDonnell provides a glimpse of the intersection of politics and money. Many of the alleged gifts and actions listed, however, don’t seem especially extraordinary in today’s political environment. What is breathtaking, though, is how tawdry the allegations are. One almost feels sympathy for the Star Scientific CEO, Jonnie Williams (JW) whom the McDonnell family allegedly treated as something of a mark. 

From page 15 of the indictment:

During the meeting, Maureen McDonnell noticed JW’s watch and asked what brand it was. JW informed her that it was a Rolex. She informed JW that she would like to get one for Robert McDonnell because he would like a Rolex…Maureen McDonnell told JW that she wanted JW to buy a Rolex for Robert McDonnell

The allegations of improper gifts fall roughly into two categories. The first are personal loans to the McDonnell family to help them meet mortgage payments on two rental properties they owned. At least one of these seems to have been listed on McDonnell’s financial disclosure form filed annually with the Commonwealth. 

Last year, Gov. McDonnell apologized for the loans and repaid Williams $120,000. 

The second category are alleged gifts that allowed the family to live a life-style far beyond what they could otherwise afford. From page 14 of the indictment:

MAUREEN MCDONNELL had previously called JW to ask whether JW’s Ferrari would be at the house for ROBERT MCDONNELL’S use. JW arranged to have a Star Scientific employee transport the Ferrari from Richmond to his Smith Mountain Lakehouse so that the defendants could use the Ferrari during their vacation.

Over a one week period in August 2011, two of the McDonnell sons played three rounds of golf at Kinloch Golf Club, an exclusive course where Williams was a member. They allegedly charged almost $3,000 to Williams’ account, including green fees, merchandise and food and drink. On another golf outing the follow year, the McDonnells allegedly charged $1,400 to Williams’ account.

Other allegations detail a shopping spree for designer clothes in New York, use of a multi-million dollar vacation home and a $15,000 gift to cover catering expenses for a family wedding. 

If the allegations in the indictment are true, the McDonnells face up to 20 years in prison. It isn’t clear, however, whether Gov. McDonnell did anything specifically wrong, other than a lack of full disclosure. The indictment doesn’t detail any specific actions McDonnell took beyond the actions many elected officials take on behalf of donors. Other than helping arrange meetings, he doesn’t seem to have put pressure on any subordinates to benefit Williams. Obviously, more details will emerge during the trial and one should reserve judgement until more facts are known. 

It is perhaps fitting that these allegation arose during an investigation into whether the executive chef had stolen food from the Governors mansion. The chef was ordered to pay $2,000 in restitution.  


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