RICHMOND, Va. – Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell ended a meeting in his office by touting the effectiveness of an anti-inflammatory pill marketed by the wealthy businessman who showered him and his wife with thousands of dollars in gifts and loans, a state official said Monday.
Sara Wilson, director of the Virginia Department of Human Resource Management, testified about the meeting as the public corruption trial of McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, entered its third week. The McDonnells are charged in a 14-count indictment with accepting more than $165,000 in gifts and secret loans from former Star Scientific Inc. CEO Jonnie Williams in exchange for promoting his company's nutritional supplements, primarily Anatabloc.
Wilson said that when the March 2012 meeting to discuss health issues was breaking up, McDonnell pulled a bottle of Anatabloc from his pocket and mentioned that it was helping him and his wife. Wilson said she had already met about three weeks earlier with Star Scientific executive David Dean and rejected his request that she add Anatabloc to the list of items covered by the state employee health plan.
Wilson described the February meeting with Dean as a salesman's "cold call" and said that, to her knowledge, McDonnell had nothing to do with it. She said that after Dean told her he wanted the dietary supplement added to the health plan, she told him: "This is going to be a short meeting."
However, she said she was interested in Dean's pitch and asked to see scientific studies. He brought a Power Point presentation to a second meeting, but Wilson said that was marketing material and not what she wanted to see. She offered to make arrangements for a state employee discount on Anatabloc but never heard back.
On Monday, the jury also heard from McDonnell's former chief of staff, Martin Kent, who testified that he had no idea at the time that his boss and Maureen McDonnell had received gifts and loans from Williams. Several other former administration officials have testified that they, too, were in the dark about the extent of the cozy relationship until the scandal began making headlines in March 2013.
Kent also testified that Williams and his company received no state funds, board appointments or special legislation — a point that defense attorneys have emphasized in arguing that McDonnell extended routine political courtesies and nothing more.
On another matter, Kent testified that he received a heads-up from Col. Stephen Flaherty, superintendent of the Virginia State Police, that investigators were planning to interview Maureen McDonnell in February 2013. The jury was shown an email in which Flaherty told Kent: "We want to wrap up the Chef Todd case."
Todd Schneider was the Executive Mansion chef who was indicted and accused of embezzling food from the kitchen. Schneider, who ultimately pleaded no contest to reduced charges, provided information that prompted the McDonnell investigation.
Kent said he had planned to sit in on the interview with Maureen McDonnell but was told by Flaherty's top deputy that he couldn't. He said he spoke to Bob McDonnell about the interview less than 24 hours after it was conducted.
"He was upset," Kent said. McDonnell told him that "the interview was not what it was purported to be for."
Former mansion director Sarah Scarbrough testified last week that Maureen McDonnell also was upset and felt she had been set up.
Kent also testified about an August 2011 luncheon at the governor's mansion that prosecutors have described as the official launch for Anatabloc. McDonnell arrived for the latter part of the event and made some brief remarks.
McDonnell was swamped that week dealing with an earthquake, Hurricane Irene and a huge fire in the Great Dismal Swamp in southeastern Virginia. Kent acknowledged that McDonnell, who generally considered public safety the only thing more important than economic development, could have removed the luncheon from his schedule but didn't.