RICHMOND, Va. — The prosecution's star witness in the federal corruption trial of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell had a limit on his generosity, he said in testimony Thursday.
When Maureen McDonnell asked Jonnie Williams, the chief executive of Virginia-based Star Scientific who lavished the governor and his wife with more than $150,000 in gifts and loans, to buy their daughter a car and sell Maureen McDonnell a Range Rover at a discount so one of her boys could drive it at college, he balked, saying the request was too much.
The testimony bolstered his claim Wednesday that the McDonnells were the ones with their hands out and that he only gave them much of what they asked for. Williams said he did it solely to get access to the governor in hopes of persuading him to get state researchers to study his dietary supplement, Anatabloc.
"As you sit here today, are you 100% sure that Governor McDonnell agreed to help your company because of the loans and gifts?" asked Bill Burck, Maureen McDonnell's defense lawyer.
"I am 100% sure," Williams said. "I believed that."
His claims were a stark contrast to the way the McDonnells' lawyers characterized Williams' actions in court Tuesday.
Maureen McDonnell's lawyers called Williams a master manipulator who filled the void of a failed marriage and changed his story nine times. They'll have their chance to elaborate Friday as they continue to cross-examine him under oath, a process started late in the day Thursday.
Williams, who has been given immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony, said his relationship with Maureen McDonald was purely business and in no way romantic in spite of more than 1,200 calls and texts that they had exchanged. He characterized his relationship with the governor the same way.
"He's a politician. I'm a businessman." said Williams, 59. He called allowing the governor to use his private Lear jet a common practice in Virginia to get access to politicians, and Williams has allowed other Republican politicians to use his plane for free, including former presidential nominee Mitt Romney, former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
Williams also considered other free trips and meals as part of the cost of doing business.
But the CEO of Star Scientific who resigned Dec. 27 amid a securities probe, shareholder lawsuits and publicity from his dealings with the McDonnells had second thoughts about one $6,000-$7,000 purchase he made in California at the request of the governor's wife: a Rolex watch engraved "Robert F. McDonnell, 71st Governor of Virginia" that Maureen McDonnell gave her husband as a Christmas gift in 2011.
"I should not have had to buy things like that to get the help I needed," Williams said. The jury was allowed to handle the watch and see the engraving.
Williams seemed to think the Rolex was a more inappropriate request than Maureen McDonnell's infamous April 13, 2011, shopping trip to New York where Williams paid almost $20,000 for two Oscar de la Renta dresses, two pairs of Louis Vuitton shoes, a Louis Vuitton purse, raincoat, and other lavish gifts for for Virginia's then-first lady. Williams has said Maureen McDonnell pushed for that trip.
He also didn't consider it too out of line for Maureen McDonnell to ask for her family's use of Williams' white Ferrari while they spent a long weekend in July 2011 at his multi-million-dollar vacation home beside Smith Mountain Lake near Roanoke, Va.
"She said, 'It would be nice. We never get to do things like this,' " Williams said on the stand. He had the car, which was at his home, delivered to the resort. "I asked her not to let the children drive."
When Williams was invited to the governor's mansion for dinner April 29, 2011, he said he went so he could pitch his product to the governor.
Four days later, Williams said he went to the governor's mansion after Maureen McDonnell called. She told him she wanted to talk about the dietary supplement his company manufactured.
There, he said Maureen McDonnell explained that she and her husband, both now 60, were in financial trouble and that they were discussing filing for bankruptcy but that the governor thought that was a bad idea.
The governor and his sister, also named Maureen McDonnell, bought two Virginia Beach houses at the height of the real-estate market run-up, according to Virginia Beach property records. The siblings each had 50% ownership in the houses through a limited liability company they registered in 2006 as MoBo Real Estate Partners, a play on the names Maureen and Bob.
One oceanfront home, now assessed at $805,200, was bought in March 2006 for $850,000. A nearby oceanview home was bought in May 2005 for $1.15 million and is assessed this year at $889,900. Both valuations are up more than $50,000 from this time two years ago.
But in late 2012 and early 2013, the governor and his wife were attempting to refinance those properties and two others in the state, according to the 43-page federal indictment that came down in January, 10 days after Bob McDonnell finished his term as governor. The extent of the McDonnells' financial difficulties was not detailed, nor has it come out in court.
At one point, Bob McDonnell and Williams discussed a possible secret transfer of Star Scientific stock to the governor so the politician could borrow money against it to ease his financial problems. Williams said he wanted to keep the deal just between the two of them because he thought it was wrong.
"It could be violating laws," Williams said. "I was uncomfortable; I didn't think I should have to be doing this."
The governor, a former Virginia attorney general who has a law degree from Christian Broadcasting Network University, now Regent University, in Virginia Beach, agreed.
"I didn't want anyone to know I was helping the governor financially with his problems while he was helping my company," Williams said.
The stock transfer never happened because any transaction would have had to be reported to the federal Securities and Exchange Commission, he said. Williams also rebuffed a pitch from the McDonnells to buy the Virginia Beach rental properties.
Williams later refused to answer a question from Maureen McDonnell's lawyer about his net worth.
Ultimately, Williams made loans to MoBo totaling $70,000 to help with the McDonnells' expenses for the homes.
At 5:30 p.m. ET — after defense lawyers allowed Williams to talk for more than 90 minutes about his career and the company that paid him almost $1.2 million a year until his resignation — federal District Judge James Spencer adjourned for the day.
"We're going to stop right here because primarily I can't take another second of this," the judge said.
As he left the courthouse, Bob McDonnell was optimistic, saying he believes the truth will come out by the end of the trial.
"I'm a former prosecutor," Bob McDonnell said. "Trials are long things. I'm confident we'll pull through at the end."
Contributing: Paulina Firozi, USA TODAY; The Associated Press. Peggy Fox also reports for WUSA-TV, Washington; Nick Ochsner also reports for WVEC-TV, Hampton-Norfolk, Va.
McDonnell family tree
The witness lists for the federal corruption trial of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, are sprinkled with family members who could be called to testify. Here is how they are linked:
• Bob McDonnell, former Virginia governor and former state attorney general; his lawyers already have said he will testify in his defense.
• Maureen McDonnell, Bob McDonnell's wife of 38 years; she is on the defense list but isn't expected to take the stand.
• Jeanine McDonnell Zubowsky, the McDonnells' eldest daughter who last was in the spotlight as a speaker at the 2012 Republican National Convention.
• Adam Zubowsky, a former chief of operations in the governor's office who married Jeanine Zubowsky on May 11, 2013
• Cailin McDonnell Young, the McDonnells' middle daughter who was married June 4, 2011, and received a $15,000 check from Jonnie Williams to pay for catering at her reception in the governor's mansion
• Christopher Young, an engineer who married Cailin Young
• Rachel McDonnell, the youngest of the McDonnells' daughters
• Robert "Bobby" McDonnell, one of the McDonnells' twin sons; he has testified that he looked up to Williams as a mentor.
• Sean McDonnell, one of the McDonnells' twin sons
• Maureen C. McDonnell, the other Maureen McDonnell in the family; she is Bob McDonnell's sister and has a 50% interest with him in two Virginia Beach vacation homes.
• Michael Uncapher. He married Bob McDonnell's sister in 2009; it is unclear whether he and Maureen C. McDonnell are separated, divorced or in the process of divorcing; the indictment says MU was Bob McDonnell's brother-in-law.