Former Va. Gov. McDonnell sentenced to 2 years for corruption

The punishment was far below the 10 years prosecutors initially wanted, but still more than the community service the former governor's defense argued for.

Jay Westcott/Reuters
Former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell pauses as he addresses the media after his sentencing hearing in Richmond, Virginia, January 6. McDonnell was sentenced on Tuesday to two years in federal prison and two years of probation for taking a bribe from a businessman seeking to promote a dietary supplement.

Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, once on the short list to be Mitt Romney's vice presidential running mate, was sentenced Tuesday to two years in federal prison for taking bribes to promote a dietary supplement.

The punishment was far below the 10 years prosecutors initially wanted, but still more than the community service the former governor, his defense team and hundreds of supporters argued for.

In a strong but somber voice, McDonnell told the judge before sentencing that he was "a heartbroken and humbled man" and that he holds himself accountable.

"I allowed my life to get way out of balance," he said.

Some family members and friends wept softly as McDonnell addressed U.S. District Judge James Spencer. For a few, the tears turned to smiles when the judge announced the sentence. McDonnell was stoic.

A jury in September found McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, guilty of public corruption. The couple accepted gifts including a $6,500 engraved Rolex watch, $20,000 in designer clothing and accessories, and free family vacations in exchange for promoting a purported miracle cure made by Star Scientific Inc.

The company's former CEO, Jonnie Williams, testified under immunity as the prosecution's star witness in a case that exposed the details of the McDonnells' shaky finances and troubled marriage.

At the six-week trial, the former governor said he began working unnecessarily late, just to avoid his wife's angry outbursts and begged her to work on their deteriorating marriage. Defense attorneys claimed Maureen McDonnell developed a "crush" on Williams and was largely responsible for the couple's cozy relationship with Williams.

McDonnell acknowledged he accepted Williams' largesse but did nothing for him in return other than extend routine political courtesies. He was convicted of 11 counts of corruption.

"I'm 60 years old. Whatever days the Lord allows me, I dedicate anew to the service of others," he said before sentencing.

McDonnell is to report to prison by Feb. 9. His wife, who was convicted on eight counts, will be sentenced Feb. 20.

Outside the courthouse, McDonnell vowed to appeal his convictions and said: "I have never, ever betrayed my sacred oath of office."

McDonnell is the first Virginia governor, and the 12th nationally, convicted of corruption, federal officials said. Others include Rod Blagojevich of Illinois, who is serving 14 years for a scheme to sell President Barack Obama's former U.S. Senate seat; Edwin Edwards of Louisiana, who was sentenced to 10 years for extorting money from casino license applicants; and Arch Moore of West Virginia, who got nearly six years for extorting money from a coal operator and other offenses.

The judge noted the outpouring of support for McDonnell, more than 400 people wrote letters and supporters packed the courtroom, and concluded that "he is a good and decent man who has done a lot of good in the public area."

"It breaks my heart, but I have a duty I can't avoid," the judge said.

The public corruption case in Virginia prompted the General Assembly to tighten the state's murky ethics laws, and some Virginia elected officials have voluntarily limited the value of gifts they will accept.

McDonnell, 60, delivered the 2010 Republican response to the State of the Union Address and became chairman of the Republican Governors Association in 2011. He was indicted 10 days after leaving the office.

At trial, the McDonnell's defense strategy depended in large part on convincing the jury that their marriage was so strained that they could not have conspired to squeeze bribes out of Williams. They arrived at and left the courthouse separately every day and rarely even glanced at each other as they sat separated by lawyers at the defense table.

McDonnell and other witnesses testified about the first lady's erratic behavior, suggesting she was mostly responsible for the relationship that developed with Williams. They said she was prone to such angry outbursts that the Executive Mansion staff threatened a mass resignation. One acknowledged calling Maureen McDonnell "a nutbag."

Several witnesses described Maureen McDonnell's relationship with the wealthy vitamin executive as inappropriate and flirtatious. Nobody suggested the relationship was physical, and Williams testified that his dealings with the McDonnells were all business.

Williams said he spent freely on the McDonnells to secure meetings with administration officials and a launch event at the Executive Mansion for his tobacco-derived anti-inflammatory supplement Anatabloc as a treatment for ulcers, Alzheimer's, multiple sclerosis and other maladies.

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