Star Scientific Likely Bribed Gov. Bob McDonnell


Jonnie R. Williams Sr., the CEO of Virginia-based nutrition company Star Scientific and a renowned businessman in the Richmond area, allegedly donated over $145,000 to Gov. Robert F. McDonnell and his wife Maureen in 2011 and 2012. While the McDonnells accepted the money, they never fully disclosed the benefits as a gift or loan. Thus the state has begun federal investigations over the motivation and origin for the donations. Considering that the McDonnell family, particularly the governor and his wife, have openly endorsed and promoted products created by Star Scientific in the past, it seems more than likely that this is a classic case of bribery in its ugliest form. McDonnell will likely have to stop down from office.

$70,000 of the $145,000 from Williams was given to a trust that went directly to a limited-liability corporation founded by McDonnell and his sister, also named Maureen, called MoBo Real Estate Partners (the name is short for Maureen and Bob) that owns two Virgina Beach rental properties. According to the terms of the loan, the McDonnells would make no payments for three years but would eventually have to pay back the $70,000 by 2015. The impetus for this loan seems to come from the fact that MoBo has struggled with financial expenses after the collapse of the real estate market and had already received loans in 2007, 2008, and 2010. Of the properties which MoBo has a stake in, most have decreased dramatically in value; additionally, McDonnell has indicated that he has only partially paid back two of the loans.

Another $50,000 of the $145,000 were given in a previously unknown check to the governor's wife in 2011. State law requirements say that any gift valued at more than $50 must be disclosed, but gifts to family members are exempt, thus McDonnell could easily have found a loophole in which to solicit funds. On state-mandated disclosure forms in 2011 and 2012, McDonnell admitted that a member of his immediate family owed money to an unnamed individual creditor, but since this individual was characterized as someone in "medical services" and "health care" and Star Scientific engages in nutritional supplements, Williams was most likely the creditor. 

McDonnell has stated in the past that he views Williams as a family friend, which partially explains why Williams gave a $10,000 check to McDonnell's eldest daughter Jeanine to help defray costs for her wedding in May 2013. Yet, prior to Jeanine's wedding, Williams had given $15,000 to cater Cailin McDonnell's wedding in 2011, bought $15,000 in luxury clothing for the McDonnell family, and helped the governor's wife buy her husband a $6,500 Rolex watch. Since these were gifts, not loans, and were made to members of McDonnell's family rather than the governor himself, they are technically in accordance with the law, but the chance that the donations were incentives is still very great.

While the governor has stated that Star Financial has received no government contracts, economic incentives, or grants, the company was able to use the governor's mansion to hold a luncheon at the unveiling of a new product in August 2011. Maureen McDonnell also helped arrange meetings between Williams, a top state official, and Virginia Secretary of Health Bill Hazel on separate occasions in order for Williams to pitch his new product Antabloc. While Hazel said he was confident Williams received no benefits from his part, Williams was still able to get these opportunities through the advantages of the governor and his wife.

In McDonnell's position, resignation appears imminent. While the governor has insisted that everything he did was entirely legal, it seems quite obvious that McDonnell has been receiving bribes from Star Scientific, explaining his ardent support for the company. McDonnell has consistently said in recent interviews that he is not preparing to step down, but with recent controversies arising simultaneously such as $2,400 in toiletries and food that the governor purchased with a state credit card and the recent arrest of his 21-year-old son Sean for public intoxication, it seems that one of the GOP's rising stars may finally have to pay for his actions with a public resignation.