McDonnells plead not guilty to corruption charges

(Source: Art Lien/NBC News)
(Source: Art Lien/NBC News)

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Former governor Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, pleaded not guilty in court Friday to federal corruption charges.

The judge set a date of July 28 for a 5 to 6 week jury trial for the couple.

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The couple was allowed to be released without bond, during a hearing in the federal courthouse in Richmond. A grand jury indicted the pair on 14 charges Tuesday over their relationship with former Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams.

The indictment accuses the McDonnells of taking more than $165,000 in loans and gifts from Williams in exchange for promoting his dietary supplements. 

McDonnell released a statement Tuesday again denying wrongdoing and pledging to fight the allegations. 
"I deeply regret accepting legal gifts and loans from Mr. Williams, all of which have been repaid with interest, and I have apologized for my poor judgment for which I take full responsibility," he said in the statement. "However, I repeat emphatically that I did nothing illegal for Mr. Williams in exchange for what I believed was his personal generosity and friendship.  I never promised - and Mr. Williams and his company never received - any government benefit of any kind from me or my Administration."
The former governor has returned $124,000 in loans and gifts, plus a $10,000 gift from Williams to his daughter.
McDonnell recently completed his time in office earlier this month with a cloud of legal troublesovershadowing his term. He apologized in his final State of the Commonwealth address, briefly defending his actions while admitting that taking gifts from Williams didn't look good.

"Choices I made were legal, and as several reviews have shown, no person or company received any special benefits during our Administration," the former governor said in the speech.

Williams resigned as CEO of Star Scientific last month, as did company president Paul Perito. They are still with the Glen Allen-based company to help with the litigation and product development. The company changed names to Rock Creek Pharmaceuticals after a vote by shareholders. Dr. Michael Mullan replaced Williams.

The gift scandal exposed the lax ethics regulations in place in Virginia. The House of Delegates now wants to place a $250 limit on gifts from lobbyists and others who do business with the Commonwealth. Legislators also say they want to establish a commission to advise and train elected officials about ethics and conflict-of-interest laws. Governor-elect Terry McAuliffe has proposed limiting gifts to elected officials and their families at $100.

Attorney General Mark Herring recently said the state is no longer going to pay outside law firms to represent McDonnell and his staffers. Herring, a Democrat, terminated the contracts related to criminal investigations of McDonnell.

The outside firms were hired by former Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who said conflicts prevented his office from representing McDonnell and his staffers. An investigation by Richmond Commonwealth's Attorney Michael Herring concluded Cuccinelli did not break the law when he failed to disclose thousands of dollars in gifts from Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams.

Cuccinelli also received plane rides, vacation stays and supplements from Williams. He was also questioned for a fortuitous short term investment in Star stock. He has said he wouldgive $18,000 to an unspecified charity, an amount equal to the value of the personal gifts Cuccinelli received from Williams.

Meanwhile, Star Scientific is working with the Food and Drug Administration to keep its dietary supplements, Antabloc and CigRx, on the market. The FDA warned the company that the drugs have a new ingredient requiring approval.

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