Former Virginia first lady Maureen McDonnell, wife of former Gov. Robert “Bob” McDonnell, avoided corruption charges after federal prosecutors on June 27, 2016 filed a motion that ensured the cases’ dismissal.
Bob had been convicted in 2014 on federal charges of taking more than $177,000 in gifts and loans in exchange for helping a dietary supplement businessman, but after the appeals process, the Supreme Court threw out the case in a unanimous decision.
The ruling centered mainly around the question of what an “official action” is under the federal corruption law.
Bob broke his silence about the entire ordeal when ahe ppeared in an interview on the April 30, 2017 episode of 60 Minutes.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court and set a definition of the term and its usage under federal law.
In sum, an ‘official act’ is a decision or action on a ‘question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy. Setting up a meeting, talking to another official, or organizing an event (or agreeing to do so) — without more — does not fit that definition of an official act.
Roberts also called the McDonnells’ actions “distasteful.”
Here is what you need to know about Maureen McDonnell:
1. The Former Governor & First Lady Were Indicted by a Grand Jury for Taking Lavish Gifts
A federal grand jury indicted the duo in 2014 after finding their cozy relationship with a business owner pushed legal boundaries. In the indictment, Maureen McDonnell was reported to have accepted gifts — like dresses and $20,000 shopping tabs — from Star Scientific CEO Jonnie R. Williams Sr.
According to the 60 Minutes interview, Williams wanted the governor’s assistance in getting state-sponsored studies of one of his company’s tobacco-base supplements, known as Anatabloc. The McDonnells even hosted a launch event for the product.
After the indictment, the former governor admitted taking gifts but said he didn’t think he did anything illegal.
“We did not violate the law, and I will use every available resource and advocate I have for as long as it takes to fight these false allegations, and to prevail against this unjust overreach of the federal government,” he said then.
Both were found guilty later that year, the former governor on 11 of 14 counts; the former first lady on nine of 14.
2. Maureen McDonnell Has Previously Been Sentenced to 1 Year in Prison
More than a year after the indictment, Maureen McDonnell was sentenced to one year in prison.
McDonnell appealed the ruling, and before the court took action on it, waited for the appeals process on Bob McDonnell’s Supreme Court case. Lawyers said in court filings that whatever the Supreme Court ruled on the husband’s case, it applied to the wife’s, too, according to the Washington Post.
Before appealing his case all the way to the Supreme Court, a lower court sentenced Bob McDonnell to two years in prison. Prosecutors were pushing for more than six years behind bars.
3. Maureen McDonnell Was Accused of Having ‘a Crush’ on the Businessman
The ongoing public court battles made for interesting headlines, too. The former first lady’s defense attorney, William Burck, argued that Maureen McDonnell was smitten with Williams, the business executive, which is why she sought out his attention.
“Jonnie Williams was larger than life to Maureen McDonnell,” Burck told the court, according to Fox News. “But unlike the other man in her life, Jonnie Williams paid attention to Maureen McDonnell.”
The couple’s daughter, Jeanine McDonnell Zubowsky, said it was Maureen McDonnell who was always looking for “discounts and freebies.”
Meanwhile, an employee of Williams’ sat on the stand and said the Star Scientific chief simply was a gift-giving person.
“He’s very generous,” [assistant Jerri] Fulkerson said, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “I don’t know why he does it. He just gives gifts.”
4. The Couple Has Publicly Struggled with Their Marriage
The corruption trials took the McDonnells’ marriage issues, whether the two arrived at the court separately or when the former governor testified that he was no longer living with his wife, and spilled them into the public eye. By 2011, the governor had testified, “we were not able to talk about anything of any substance.”
Although they were estranged, the two had been seen together in public.
“When I saw them together, I said, ‘Hmm, interesting,'” state Del. Joe Lindsey, D-Norfolk, who sat two rows in front of the McDonnells, told the Virginian-Pilot. “They seemed to be very cordial, and there didn’t seem to be detachment at all between them.”
5. The Supreme Court’s Ruling Marked ‘a New Day’ for Maureen McDonnell
In a statement released after the federal prosecutors’ announcement that they would not retry the McDonnell’s, Maureen McDonnell’s lawyer, Randy Singer, released a statement saying they were “grateful for the decision,” the “right decision based on the law.”
“Mrs. McDonnell is looking forward to the days ahead,” the statement says. “She will be serving with some non-profits, re-planting her roots in the Hampton Roads community, and cherishing her time with her family, including her four grandchildren. She will be forever grateful for this day, a day that marks a fresh start for both Governor and Mrs. McDonnell, and a day where they can shift their focus from the legal battle that has consumed them to giving back to the Commonwealth that has meant so much to them.”