Governor's Push for Studies at UVa Key Point to Closing Statements in McDonnell Trial

August 29, 2014

Prosecutors have repeated there is no smoking gun in the federal corruption trial against former governor Bob McDonell and his wife Maureen, but an email correspondence about possible clinical studies at the University of Virginia "is as close as it get to proving quid pro quo in this case," prosecutor David Harbach told the jury during closing statements Friday.

In February of 2012, Bob McDonnell sent a late-night email to Johnnie Williams about contacting his lawyers to discuss stock certificates. This was the same time period the men had met to discuss how Williams could give the McDonnells a second fifty thousand dollar loan with one option being for Williams to gift shares of his company's stock. Six minutes after sending an email to Williams, McDonnell emailed his top advisor, "Please see me about Anatabloc issues at VCU and UVa".

From his first day testifying on the witness stand more than one month ago, Williams insisted he gave the former first couple $177,000 in gifts and loans in exchange for their help promoting his company, Star Scientific Inc. and its newest product, Anatabloc. Williams said he needed clinical trials of the product to be done at institutions like UVa's Medical Center and Virginia Commonwealth University to bolster its credibility. Williams also wanted grant money from Virginia's Tobacco Commission and needed the medical institutions to apply on his company's behalf.

In closing statements, Harbach told jurors of a conversation Willaims testified he had with Maureen McDonnell in the spring of 2011. According to Williams, the First Lady told him, "The governor says it's okay for me to help you, but I need you to help me". Williams testified she went on to describe their thousands of dollars of credit card debt and Virginia Beach rental properties that were behind on mortgage payments. Harbach said their financial problems is at the root of the conspiracy between the McDonnells and Williams.

Harbach spent Friday morning outlining several attempts by Williams, with the McDonnells help, to woo researchers and doctors from UVa. In July of 2011, Dr. Peggy Shupnik, an endocrinologist at UVa, flew on Williams' private jet from Virginia to Baltimore where she and several other doctors attended a Star seminar on anatabine at Gibson Island in the Chesapeake Bay. The seminar was also attended by Maureen McDonnell.

The night Bob McDonnell returned from a family vacation at Williams' mansion on Smith Mountain Lake at the end of July 2011, he sent an email to Secretary of Health and Human Resources, Dr. Bill Hazel, with a request to have someone from his office meet with Maureen and Williams at the governor's mansion the next morning to discuss clinical trials at UVa.

In August of 2011, UVa researchers attended a luncheon at the governor's mansion that prosecutors argue was really a product launch luncheon for Anatabloc. Dr. John Lazo was the associate dean of pharmaceuticals and chemistry at UVa at the time, and testified the event seemed to be an official event. Lazo testified he was unexpectedly handed a $25,000 check by Williams to finance grant applications, which he said he immediately passed along to his superiors.

Harbach concluded his two hour and ten minute closing statement by walking jurors through each of the 14 charges against the McDonnells and explaining what the government needed to prove in order for them to return a guilty verdict. He wrapped up by telling jurors, "This is bribery. This is corruption...Don't let it stand".

Lawyers for Maureen and Bob McDonnell will present their closing statements Friday afternoon.

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