University of Virginia researchers were uncomfortable about the governor’s apparent support for Anatabloc, a supplement they considered studying at its maker’s behest, a key university official testified Monday during the federal corruption trial of Bob and Maureen McDonnell.
But Sharon Krueger, program director for the university’s innovation grants program, said she never spoke to the governor about it, and that he never pressured her to do anything. It was the impression of support — a public appearance on the company’s behalf here, reminders from the company there — that made the university brass wary as they considered researching Anatabloc.
Similarly, former Gov. Bob McDonnell took a small bottle of Anatabloc out of his pocket during a 2012 meeting with state health plan officials. Again, there was no pressure to add the supplement to the list of products covered by state employee insurance, as the product’s maker already had requested.
The governor simply said he took the product himself, and that it helped him, and his wife. Sara Wilson, who oversees the state employee health plan, told prosecutors today that she walked away from that meeting with her boss, Lisa Hicks-Thomas Wilson.
“He wants us to meet with these people,” Wilson said Hicks-Thomas told her.
“And I said, 'I didn't hear that,'“ Wilson said. “And she said, 'Trust me, that's what he wants.'“
Therein lies the challenge for federal prosecutors as they move into a third week of the federal corruption trial against the former governor and his wife, Maureen. It is clear the McDonnells took six figures worth of gifts and loans from Jonnie R. Williams Sr., the former CEO of Anatabloc maker Star Scientific.
It is less clear whether Williams got enough in return to convince a jury there was a conspiracy to sell the governor's “honest services.” The McDonnell defense team insists the governor simply went about the normal process of promoting Virginia companies, including Star Scientific.
Monday’s proceedings included testimony from Wilson and Hicks-Thomas, who told slightly different versions of the meeting story, but ended up in the same place: No follow-ups from the governor, and no beneficial result for Star Scientific.
Former Chief of Staff Martin Kent reiterated what defense attorneys have pointed out many times: McDonnell never appointed anyone related to Star Scientific to a state board or pushed for research funding. Kent said the governor never asked him to do anything he felt was wrong.
UVA’s Krueger told a similar tale. She and a colleague emailed over concerns as Star Scientific prodded the university to ask the state’s tobacco commission for a grant to fund clinical trials needed to turn Anatabloc from a supplement to a drug, with approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Going forward with the plan might make it “look like the governor is influencing UVA,” Krueger emailed her boss at the time, Mark Crowell.
“This makes me uncomfortable,” he replied, according to emails in evidence at the trial.
In the end, neither the University of Virginia nor Virginia Commonwealth University applied for funding or did the research. Anatabloc never became a drug. On Monday, Rock Creek Pharmaceuticals — Star Scientific’s new name — announced that it was suspending sales of Anatabloc, which had been available at health stores as a dietary supplement.
Also Monday, jurors heard about the tangled mess of finances surrounding the governor’s real estate ventures in Virginia Beach, which apparently prompted him to seek $70,000 in loans from Williams.
The governor’s former brother in law, Michael Uncapher, said the venture also relied on a $100,000 loan from McDonnell’s father and $50,000 from a radiologist named Paul Davis. That was in addition to a series of bank loans used to buy two beach houses at the height of the real estate market in 2005 and 2006, according to Uncapher, who said he handled the books day-to-day for MoBo Real Estate until he separated from his wife in October 2012.
Uncapher testified that the siblings always planned for the homes to lose money, wanting them as a vacation spot as well as investments. Things went too far sideways, though, when the market collapsed.
But Uncapher testified that the governor’s sister, who, like his wife, is named Maureen, made more than $500,000 as a private sector executive in 2012. There was never any concern about MoBo being able to pay its bills, he said. The siblings simply chose to borrow money, Uncapher said under questioning from one of Bob McDonnell's attorneys, for reasons he did not detail.
Uncapher also testified that his then-wife had serious health issues in 2008 and 2009 associated with the birth of their child, and said this distracted him, causing late fees to pile up on the properties.
Eventually Uncapher ended up talking with Williams on a pair of telephone calls set up by the governor’s wife, he said. Shortly after a second call with Williams, Uncapher emailed the governor and first lady saying he hadn't yet received an expected check from a McDonnell “friend.”
The governor responded to his wife, according to emails in evidence, asking who this friend was, and whether it was Williams.
She responded: “Just got home. I'll talk to you upstairs.”
They lived in the governor's mansion at this point, and the upstairs area includes the family's living quarters.
Other testimony and evidence in this trial indicates the governor spoke to Williams directly about these loans later in the year — once in February before a health care reception Williams was allowed to invite doctors to, and then in the spring when McDonnell sent a text message to Williams asking for another $20,000.
That was the second mansion event Williams was allowed to take a key role in. The governor helicoptered in from Northern Virginia for an August 2011 Anatabloc luncheon there, taking time out from what former Chief of Staff Martin Kent testified Monday was probably the busiest week of the McDonnell administration, due to a string of natural disasters.
By this event, Williams had already loaned the McDonnells $50,000, separate from the MoBo loans. He had also helped pay for their daughter's wedding, covered golf outings for the governor and his sons and taken the first lady on a $20,000 shopping trip in New York City.
The first family had also vacationed at Williams' large vacation home at Smith Mountain Lake. Williams loaned them his Ferrari, and the governor drove it home to Richmond.
Prosecutors showed 21 pictures of the governor driving — presumably taken by the first lady in the passenger seat — Monday, asking Kent to identify Bob McDonnell as the sun set and he went from a smiling face to dark silhouette.
Kent also testified that he talked to the governor after that, asking him not to drive himself any more. It was a rarity, and the governor's state police protection unit felt it couldn't protect him from another car.
“I think it had hurt morale,” Kent said.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun