RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Former Gov. Bob McDonnell’s wife sent text messages claiming exclusive credit for securing loans from a Virginia businessman whose largesse toward the couple is at the heart of their public corruption trial, according to evidence presented Tuesday.
In one text presented by the former governor’s defense team, Maureen McDonnell expresses anger that her husband appears to be getting credit for arranging the deal, which the McDonnells sought for their side business of renting vacation homes in Virginia Beach.
The McDonnells are charged in federal court with accepting more than $165,000 in gifts and loans from former Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams in exchange for promoting his company’s tobacco-based dietary supplement.
Bob McDonnell’s lawyers began presenting their defense this week and have attempted to show that his wife was the one enjoying a cozy relationship with Williams.
Tuesday’s testimony from Bob McDonnell’s sister, also named Maureen, fed into that theory.
Maureen C. McDonnell testified that she received a series of urgent, vaguely written texts from her brother’s wife in March 2012 with instructions about how to handle a loan check that had been mailed.
Bob McDonnell and his sister had formed a real estate venture in 2005, buying two vacation homes in Virginia Beach. The venture lost thousands of dollars when the real-estate market tanked, and the McDonnells were looking for investors to keep the business going.
In one text, the then-first lady sends a text to Maureen C. McDonnell saying, “I talked him into it,” meaning that Williams had agreed to provide a $50,000 loan.
Williams eventually lent $70,000 to the real estate venture.
Maureen C. McDonnell also testified that she and her husband were separated, but because her brother’s relationship with his wife had deteriorated so badly, he never bothered to tell the first lady.
The testimony is intended to bolster a defense claim that the former first couple’s marriage was on the rocks and that they could not have conspired to accept gifts and loans from Williams because they were barely speaking.
Maureen C. McDonnell testified that she saw a lot of strain in her brother’s marriage to a woman she described as “very manipulative, very unpredictable and very deceptive,” and the result was a breakdown in communication.
“After he became governor, it kind of went from bad to worse,” she said. The former first lady made her cry one night the two families were working on the rental properties, she said. When McDonnell’s sister threatened to leave, the former governor begged her to stay. “He was working on it. He was trying to get her help,” the former governor’s sister said he told her.
Another defense witness who testified after the former governor’s sister Tuesday described his wife as difficult and prone to angry outbursts.
Kathleen Scott was a special assistant to Maureen McDonnell. She testified that her ex-boss became increasingly volatile as she prepared for public appearances. Other witnesses have described similar behavior. Scott said the staff called in outside help to deal with problem and someone advised them to think of the first lady as a 5-year-old. “We couldn’t get our job done,” she said.
Scott also testified that Maureen McDonnell seemed infatuated with Williams and would “light up” when his name was mentioned.
Maureen C. McDonnell, meanwhile, said her sister-in-law was unhappy as first lady, once describing the governor’s mansion as a prison.
“I think she felt trapped there,” she said.
She also offered testimony designed to counter the government’s theory that the McDonnells were financially desperate because of the real-estate venture.
Maureen C. McDonnell testified that she had long earned a six-figure salary, topping out at about $560,000 in 2012, and could easily have paid the real-estate venture’s bills.
The ex-governor’s sister also said the properties were not intended to be a profit-making venture. She said she and her brother had happy memories of family vacations to Myrtle Beach as children and wanted to replicate that for their own children and their extended family.
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