RICHMOND, Va. - Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, once viewed as a rising star in the GOP, and his wife were indicted Tuesday on federal corruption charges accusing the couple of accepting tens of thousands of dollars in loans, shopping sprees, money for their daughter's wedding - and even a joyride in a Ferrari - from the owner of a company that makes health supplements.
The 14-count indictment portrays the former governor as deeply entrenched in credit card debt even before he took office and willing to accept lavish gifts from Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams, who hoped the first couple's endorsement for his products would yield big profits for his company.
McDonnell appeared Tuesday night at a hastily called news conference in Richmond to strongly deny any wrongdoing and denounce what he said was an "unjust overreach" by federal prosecutors.
"I did nothing illegal for Mr. Williams in exchange for what I believed was his personal friendship and his generosity," said McDonnell, who was flanked by his wife, daughter and son-in-law as he read from prepared remarks.
McDonnell vowed to "use every available resource and advocate" to fight the charges.
While still in office, McDonnell apologized for accepting the gifts and repaid thousands to Williams. Limited to a single term by state law, McDonnell left the executive mansion earlier this month in disgrace, his approval numbers low and his political future in tatters. At one time, McDonnell had been considered a possible running mate for Mitt Romney, and the governor's seat has opened the door to higher office since Thomas Jefferson held the post from 1779 to 1781. McDonnell delivered the 2010 Republican response to the State of the Union Address, and became chairman of the Republican Governors Association in 2011.
Twelve of the counts are punishable by up to 20 years in prison each, and two are punishable by up to 30 years. Fines can range from $250,000 to $1 million.
The 43-page indictment portrays a cozy relationship between the McDonnells and Williams that began even before he took office, with many of their interactions initiated by Maureen McDonnell. In 2009, just before the governor's inauguration, first lady Maureen McDonnell wrote to a senior staffer for her husband: "I need answers and Bob is screaming about the thousands I'm charging up in credit card debt. We are broke, have an unconscionable amount in credit card debt already, and this inaugural is killing us!"
Even before they took up residence in the governor's mansion, Williams was offering the family money. He was known as a donor who allowed the McDonnells use of his private jet on the campaign trail. In December, he was willing to pay for an Oscar de la Renta dress that the cash-strapped first lady could wear to the inauguration. Although she was the one who asked for the dress, she later refused the offer at the staffer's urging. But the partnership between Williams and the McDonnells was already underway.
However, the indictment says Maureen McDonnell cut a deal with Williams about two years later: if he bought her dresses and accessories for her daughter's wedding and the couple's anniversary, she would make sure he had a prime seat next to her husband at a political event in New York City.
Williams paid her nearly $20,000 tab at stores like Oscar de la Renta and Louis Vuitton, the indictment says. As promised, Williams was seated next to the governor at the event on April 13, 2011.