RICHMOND – Gov. Bob McDonnell's protection unit eavesdropped on him as fellow state police officers went through the lengthy investigation that was eventually turned over to the FBI, according to testimony offered Tuesday during the federal trial that resulted.
Investigator Charles Hagan said he never asked for this help, but said Marc Wiley, a supervisor on the unit that guarded the governor day to day, would “voluntarily call me” with information once he learned that Hagan was looking into the governor, his wife, Maureen, and their relationship with Jonnie R. Williams Sr.
Wiley was close enough to the governor that McDonnell thanked him, by name, in his final state of the commonwealth address. He’s also on the McDonnell defense witness list and may be called in this trial.
He reported to Hagan for well over a year, Hagan said under questioning from the defense. At one point, Wiley told Hagan that another officer overheard part of conversation Bob McDonnell had on a plane with one of Williams’ subordinates.
“Trooper Dudley ... was able to hear them talking about Anatabloc,” Hagan quoted Wiley as saying.
The revelation came on an odd day in an unusual trial. Steven Spielberg got a mention.
Williams’ brother, Donnie Williams, testified about the handyman work he did at the McDonnells’ private home. Virginia Beach Mayor and Townebank President Will Sessoms testified about the governor’s debt — more than $2 million back in 2012.
A juror was replaced. Attorneys wouldn’t say why, but the announcement came after a pair of conferences with Judge James R. Spencer, both outside the courtroom. Bob McDonnell himself attended and returned visibly angry. He wouldn’t say why.
The judge closed the day by repeating his usual jury instructions with extra emphasis: Don’t talk to anyone about this trial, don’t read about it and don’t form an opinion until all the facts are in.
“You’ll find that we are absolutely serious about this,” Spencer said.
As for Spielberg, his role was a small one. George Vetrovec, a researcher at Virginia Commonwealth University, testified that Williams took him to the governor’s mansion during a meeting on Anatabloc. The dietary supplement was the marquee product for Williams’ company, Star Scientific, and he’d been wooing state university researchers to study it closely in an effort to raise its profile.
Those studies never occurred, despite initial interest from scientists at VCU and the University of Virginia. Prosecutors are trying to prove Bob McDonnell pushed for that research and took other official actions for Williams in exchange for more than $150,000 in loans and gifts.
Williams coaxed Vetrovec to the mansion promising cookies baked by the first lady, he said. He drove there in a car so fancy that Vetrovec testified couldn’t work the door locks. Spielberg was there for a reception because his film “Lincoln” was going to be shot in Virginia, and Vetrovec said Williams had Maureen McDonnell take him to the front of a receiving line to meet the famous director.
“The most unusual event that you could imagine,” Vetrovec testified. “You just never know what's going to happen every morning when you get up.”
Jurors also heard from Williams' brother, a retired sheriff’s deputy who performed various odd jobs at the McDonnells’ home in 2012. Donnie Williams said he and a small crew stained their deck, replaced hardwood flooring, trimmed bushes, planted new roses, raked leaves, aerated and seeded the yard and fixed sprinkler heads.
Maureen McDonnell often offered to pay for the work, Donnie Williams said, but Jonnie had said he'd cover the costs. Once the McDonnell investigation became public knowledge, Maureen McDonnell asked Donnie Williams for an invoice for all the work, he testified.
He gave her one, but low-balled the prices, he said, and she wrote him a check for about $1,685. He cashed it, but only after she followed up and he consulted with his brother.
“I didn’t want anything to do with this mess,” Donnie Williams said.
Hagan’s investigation initially focused on a mansion chef suspected of stealing food. That led to a $15,000 check from Williams, who paid the chef's catering company to cover reception costs for Cailin McDonnell's wedding at the mansion. Hagan said he tailed Chris Young, Cailin's husband, at one point during his investigation.
The check eventually led to the FBI investigation, a 14-count indictment against the McDonnells and this trial. Hagan said he also investigated potential securities frauds he suspected Williams committed, but didn’t flesh this out in his testimony Tuesday.
The defense has said Williams, the government’s star witness, lied and turned on the McDonnells to get immunity in that case.
Hagan testified that Maureen McDonnell initially identified Williams as a longtime family friend during a February 2013 interview — something that turned out not to be true. She also said there was a written loan contract for the first $50,000 Williams lent the McDonnells.
That also appears to be false, though her defense team picked at Hagan’s testimony, pointing out that his notes from the interview don’t specify a written contract, just a contract.
Maureen McDonnell's attorneys have indicated that she was ambushed in this interview, which was billed as a conversation about the mansion chef, not the McDonnells’ ties to Williams. She didn’t have a lawyer present and never asked for one, Hagan said. But the governor's chief of staff at the time, an attorney named Martin Kent, testified Monday that he wanted to attend the interview and state police told him no.
After the interview Bob McDonnell was “upset and basically said that the interview was not what it was purported (to be),” Kent testified Monday.
Former Attorney General Jerry Kilgore also testified Tuesday. He was Williams’ lobbyist, and said he hoped the governor would drop some dedicated funding for an Anatabloc study into the state budget.
Kilgore planned to meet with the governor about the appropriation, according to a schedule in evidence at the trial, but that meeting never happened because the university researchers never fully got on board, Kilgore said.
Kilgore also testified Tuesday that one of the governor's chief aides, in-house attorney Jason Eige, called him at some point, worried because the governor had asked him to call U.Va. and VCU about the studies.
Eige didn’t want to put pressure on the universities, Kilgore said. Kilgore said he passed this along to Williams who “again said that (the McDonnells) support this research and he would like their help.”
“It's always helpful” to have the governor's support, Kilgore said.
John Brownlee, one of Bob McDonnell’s lead attorneys, cross-examined Kilgore briefly. Oddly enough, Kilgore publicly supported Brownlee in an unsuccessful attorney general run in 2009.
Ken Cuccinelli won that race, and he’s expected to testify later in this trial.
The day closed with Sessoms, president of a bank that loaned the McDonnells money for beach houses in Virginia Beach, still on the stand. He confirmed that the McDonnells’ paperwork did not include loans they got from Williams.
That’s the reason for one of two false statements charges against the former governor.
Paperwork showed that the personal loans Sessoms’ bank made to the McDonnells for the Virginia Beach properties contributed to the $2 million they declared in debt during a 2012 loan renewal application. They also showed dozens of late fees assessed for missed payment deadlines.
Williams has testified that he lent money to the couple, and to a real estate firm the governor owned with one of his sisters, to help them make payments when rental income at the vacation homes didn’t cover the mortgages and other expenses.
Fain can be reached by phone at 757-525-1759.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun