Trial reveals governor's wife had 'crush' on CEO

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Trial reveals governor's wife had 'crush' on CEO
FILE - In this May 5, 2011 file photo provided by the office of the Governor of Virginia, Jonnie Williams left, and Maureen McDonnell, wife of then Gov. Bob McDonnell, pose for a photo during a reception for a NASCAR race at the Executive Mansion in Richmond, Va. The former first lady of Virginia and her husband, former Gov. Bob McConnell, have been indicted on several counts of trading on their influence to enrich themselves and family members. (AP Photo/Office of the Governor of Virginia, Michele White, File)
This May 5, 2011 photo provided by the office of the Governor of Virginia shows Jonnie Williams, right, and Virginia first lady Maureen McDonnell, left, during a reception for the NASCAR race at the Executive Mansion in Richmond, Va. Former executive assistant for Mrs. McDonnell, Mary Shea Sutherland, center, listens to the conversation. (AP Photo/Office of the Governor of Virginia, Michaele White)
In this courtroom sketch at the federal corruption trial of former Virginia Governor Robert F. McDonnell, center, and his wife, former first lady Maureen McDonnell, second from right, Judge James R. Spencer, left, presides during jury selection Monday, July 28, 2014, in Richmond, Va. Bob and Maureen McDonnell are charged in a 14-count indictment with accepting more than $165,000 in gifts and loans from the CEO of a dietary supplements company in exchange for helping promote his products. The defense team is gathered at a courtroom table and includes Victoria Taraktchian, John L. Brownlee, Robert McDonnell, Henry W. "Hank" Asbill, Marjorie Fargo, Maureen McDonnell, and William "Bill" Burck at left. Foreground figure, third from right, is Stephen Hauss. (AP Photo/Dana Verkouteren)
FILE - In this Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014 file photo, former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell makes a statement as his wife, Maureen, listens during a news conference in Richmond, Va. Federal prosecutors said in court filings Thursday, April 24, 2014 that The case against former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife is straightforward and shouldn't be dismissed. The McDonnells were charged in January of accepting more than $165,000 in gifts and loans from Jonnie Williams, the former CEO of dietary supplements maker Star Scientific Inc., in exchange for helping promote his products. They have pleaded not guilty and their trial is set for July. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)
Former Virginia first lady Maureen McDonnell, center, is flanked by daughters Rachel McDonnell, left, and Cailin Young, right, shown arriving at the federal courthouse in Richmond, Va,, Monday, July 28, 2014, on the first day of jury selection in the corruption trial of former Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife in Richmond, Va. Bob and Maureen McDonnell are charged in a 14-count indictment with accepting more than $165,000 in gifts and loans from the CEO of a dietary supplements company in exchange for helping promote his products. (AP Photo/Joe Mahoney)
Former Virginia first lady Maureen McDonnell, center, is flanked by daughters Rachel McDonnell, left, and Cailin Young, right, shown arriving at the federal courthouse in Richmond, Va,, Monday, July 28, 2014, on the first day of jury selection in the corruption trial of former Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife in Richmond, Va. Bob and Maureen McDonnell are charged in a 14-count indictment with accepting more than $165,000 in gifts and loans from the CEO of a dietary supplements company in exchange for helping promote his products. (AP Photo/Joe Mahoney)
Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, left, and his wife Maureen, arrive at Federal court for a hearing on whether to dismiss most of the corruption charges filed against them, in Richmond, Va., Monday, May 19, 2014. The Republican former governor and his wife are charged in a 14-count indictment with accepting more than $165,000 from Jonnie Williams, the former CEO of dietary supplements maker Star Scientific Inc., in exchange for helping promote his products. They have pleaded not guilty. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
RICHMOND, VA - JANUARY 24: Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, leave the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, on January 24, 2014 in Richmond, Virginia. McDonnell and his wife Maureen pleaded not guilty to a 14 count criminal indictment from federal grand jury charging that the couple violated federal corruption laws by using their positions to benefit a wealthy businessman who gave them gifts and loans. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
RICHMOND, VA - JANUARY 8: Outgoing Virginia governor Bob McDonnell delivers his final State of the Commonwealth address before newly elected Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe takes office at the Virginia State Capitol on Wednesday, January 8, 2014, in Richmond, VA. McDonnell leaves office Saturday and remains under the threat of federal indictment related to more than $165,000 in gifts and loans that a Virginia businessman provided to him and his family. (Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
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By Larry O'Dell and Alan Suderman

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - The corruption trial for ex-Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife plunged Tuesday into the sordid details of the couple's marriage and the former first's lady's "crush" on a businessman accused of lavishing them with gifts and cash in exchange for promoting his company.

The McDonnells are charged in a 14-count indictment with accepting more than $165,000 in loans, designer clothes, vacations and a Rolex watch from Jonnie Williams, the CEO of dietary supplements maker Star Scientific. If convicted, they could face decades in prison.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Aber said during opening statements that McDonnell and his wife betrayed the public's trust by lining their pockets with "secret gifts and cash." McDonnell, a once-rising star in the Republican party who left office in January, had a duty "not to sell the power and influence of his office to the highest bidder," Aber said.

"Mr. and Mrs. McDonnell knew what Mr. Williams wanted and gave it to him," she said.

Witness List Released in McDonnell Corruption Trial

Attorneys for the McDonnells told jurors the governor did what any of his predecessors would do for a Virginia-based company. They questioned Williams' character and said the couple couldn't have been scheming together because their marriage was falling apart.

Maureen McDonnell's lawyer, William A. Burck, said the former first lady was "duped" by Williams into thinking he cared for her. Williams filled a "void" in her life, and she and her husband were pretending to be a happy couple although their marriage had "broken down" long ago, Burck said.

"They were barely on speaking terms," Burck said.

A lawyer for the former governor said Bob McDonnell will testify on his own behalf and will read an email in which he begged his wife to work things out with him.

"It fell upon blind eyes and deaf ears because that evening, Maureen was distracted by other interests," defense attorney John Brownlee said.

Brownlee said the government went to great lengths looking for people to say bad things about his client, even sending investigators to interview former presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his wife, and "came up empty." McDonnell was widely mentioned as a possible Romney running mate in 2012.

Brownlee said the long hours Bob McDonnell spent at work fueled Maureen McDonnell's anger and resentment.

"She hated him for not being around, for serving the public night and day and not having anything left for her," Brownlee said, adding that the void allowed an outsider to "invade and poison their marriage."

The McDonnells arrived separately at federal court over the past two days, a sharp contrast to the united front they showed when they were indicted 10 days after he left office in January. Before the trial, they often held hands in the courthouse.

The McDonnells' attorneys sought to have them tried separately, but the judge refused. The former first lady's attorneys have suggested that she was not an elected or paid official and therefore not tied to the same scrutiny as her husband.

Burck said Williams and Maureen frequently exchanged text messages and phone calls, and that Williams often visited the Executive Mansion. Burck said the pair had a relationship that "some people would consider inappropriate" and that one potential witness may describe Williams as Maureen McDonnell's "favorite playmate." He did not indicate that their relationship was physical.

Joseph E. diGenova, a former federal prosecutor not affiliated with the case, said the defense team is airing details of the couple's troubled marriage as a way "to create some sympathy" and show that Bob McDonnell could have been unaware of the dealings between Maureen McDonnell and Williams.

The strategy could backfire, he said.

"There's always a risk the jury will think it's a ploy," diGenova said.

Aber, the prosecutor, told the jury that the luxury gifts and frequent text messaging between Williams and Maureen McDonnell were "always just a business relationship and nothing more."

She showed the jury a photo of Bob McDonnell, smiling broadly and wearing sunglasses, driving Williams' Ferrari during a vacation at Williams' lake house.

Legal experts have said one of the key questions for the jury will be whether McDonnell believed it was criminal to accept the gifts while supporting Williams' efforts to grow a Virginia business. The former governor is accused of setting up a meeting between Williams and a state health official, hosting a product launch reception at the Executive Mansion and attending a dinner and seminar aimed at persuading doctors to recommend a Star Scientific product.

Brownlee said McDonnell, whose campaign slogan was "Bob's for Jobs," spoke favorably of all Virginia businesses.

"Bob McDonnell eats Virginia ham, he drinks Virginia wine, and my guess is if he smoked he'd smoke Virginia cigarettes," Brownlee said.

Brownlee attacked Williams' credibility, calling him a "master manipulator" who deceived the McDonnells and the government to receive immunity. Williams may have illegally sold $10 million worth of Star Scientific shares to a friend in secret, according to Burck.

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