SHAFAQNA – A jury found former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, guilty of a slate of public-corruption charges on Thursday, rejecting the couple’s defense that their marriage was too broken for them to conspire and that they didn’t accept lavish gifts in exchange for backing a wealthy donor’s business.
Mr. McDonnell broke down in tears and covered his face with his hands as the verdict was read. The former Republican governor was convicted on 11 conspiracy-related counts. Mrs. McDonnell maintained her composure, but appeared to battle tears as she learned that the jury found her guilty on nine counts, including conspiracy and obstruction of justice.
Mr. and Mrs. McDonnell had both pleaded not guilty to the 14 charges they faced. They were acquitted of making false statements on bank-loan applications and Mrs. McDonnell was found not guilty of charges related to accepting golf games and gear, among other things.
The jury of seven men and five women deliberated for about 48 hours after hearing testimony for more than a month in federal court, not far from the governor’s mansion where the couple lived from 2010 through January.
Mr. and Mrs. McDonnell, who have five children and are both 60 years old, are expected to be sentenced Jan. 6 by Judge James R. Spencer. They face lengthy prison terms and hefty fines.
With their verdict, jurors accepted the prosecution’s argument that the McDonnells wrongfully used their position to promote a company, then known as Star Scientific Inc., by arranging meetings for founder Jonnie Williams Sr. with state officials and hosting events at the governor’s mansion.
The prosecution showed jurors a golf bag and a pile of designer clothes that were among $177,000 in loans and gifts from Mr. Williams to the McDonnells. They displayed photos of Mr. McDonnell—the former state attorney general and a onetime GOP presidential hopeful—wearing a Rolex from Mr. Williams and driving the businessman’s Ferrari.
“The high-end car and fancy watch literally surrounded Gov. McDonnell,” said Hampton Dellinger, a law professor who has been following the case. “He was sitting in the car, he had the watch on his wrist and he couldn’t distance himself” from the prosecution’s claims.
Mr. McDonnell testified that he made the same type of introductions for Mr. Williams as he would for any Virginia businessman and he had done nothing wrong.
Mrs. McDonnell didn’t take the stand, but was described by her own lawyer and her daughter as depressed, unhappy and prone to fits of temper. Mrs. McDonnell’s attorney said she had a “crush” on Mr. Williams and she backed his dietary supplement out of affection for him and interest in nutrition products.
The defense also maintained that the McDonnells couldn’t have conspired to defraud anyone, because they were barely speaking. The testimony revealed a chasm between the picture-perfect image of the couple in public and their tumultuous relationship behind closed doors, where fights about money were commonplace.
Mr. McDonnell testified that his 38-year marriage had been rocky for at least a decade.
Prosecutors, however, urged jurors to disregard such testimony, which they said was an effort by the defense to distract from official acts taken by the former governor in coordination with his wife. They told jurors that Mr. McDonnell knew that Mr. Williams expected help in return for his largess, and readily provided it.
The prosecution also presented evidence that the McDonnells had as much as $90,000 in credit-card debt and were financially strapped because of bad real-estate investments.
“The former governor was elected to serve the people of Virginia, but his corrupt actions instead betrayed them,” Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell said in a statement after the verdict. “Today’s convictions should send a message that corruption in any form, at any level of government, will not be tolerated.”
The McDonnells had no visible contact with each other Thursday and they left the courthouse separately.
As he drove off, Mr. McDonell told reporters: “All I can say is my trust remains in the Lord.”
Mr. McDonnell’s lawyers said they would appeal. They are expected to argue their oft-stated position that Judge Spencer gave jurors a definition of “official acts” that was too broad.
Prosecutors didn’t accuse Mr. McDonnell of issuing a government contract, said Patrick O’Donnell, who specializes in defending public officials accused of corruption.
“The ‘official acts’ they allege was putting Jonnie Williams in touch with people, and using the aura of the office to promote Star Scientific,” Mr. O’Donnell said. “That’s the broadest definition I’ve seen.”
The verdict came in as Attorney General Eric Holder was holding a news conference in Washington on an unrelated matter. He said the case had been “well tried” and “appropriately brought.”
The verdict is a vindication for the Justice Department’s public integrity unit, which has been seeking to regain its momentum after a North Carolina jury failed to convict former U.S. Sen.John Edwards in a 2012 campaign-finance case.
Write to Valerie Bauerlein at firstname.lastname@example.org