Criminal Justice

DOJ officials agree to delay indictments against outgoing Va. governor over gift scandal

Outgoing Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell has received a reprieve from prosecutors looking to charge him for his role in a gift scandal.

On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that senior officials at the U.S. Department of Justice agreed to delay impending indictments against McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, on allegations that they pocketed hundreds of thousands in free gifts and services in exchange for using their political clout to help promote Virginia-based nutrients company Star Scientific. McDonnell was elected governor in 2009 and was barred by statute from running for reelection.

According to the Post, Dana J. Boente, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, had told the McDonnells to expect an indictment this past Monday. However, attorneys for both McDonnells met with Deputy Attorney General James Cole in Washington, D.C., last week to request a delay until after the governor leaves office on Jan. 11, 2014. The Post reports that the McDonnells had argued that an indictment would interfere with the smooth transition of power to the incoming governor, Terry McAuliffe, and had raised questions about the credibility of a key witness against them. According to the Post, it’s rare for senior DOJ officials to overrule federal prosecutors on a criminal probe. The DOJ will not make a final decision about whether to charge the McDonnells before Jan. 2, and the process could drag on into February.

The Washington Post reported on the gifts given to the McDonnells by Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams in June. Among the alleged gifts were $15,000 in free catering services at the McDonnells’ daughter’s wedding in 2011, private plane rides, hundreds of thousands in campaign donations, and a $6,500 Rolex that, according to ABC News, McDonnell returned in July.

The scandal also engulfed McDonnell’s would-be successor, outgoing Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who also received gifts from Williams, but was cleared of wrongdoing by the prosecutor. Cuccinelli was narrowly defeated in the November gubernatorial race by McAuliffe.

The Star Scientific affair has been a boon to Virginia-area lawyers. According to the Blog of Legal Times, McDonnell has retained Jones Day’s managing partner Stephen Brogan and former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia John Brownlee of Holland & Knight. Maureen McDonnell, meanwhile, is represented by Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan partner William Burck. Williams, who, according to the Washington Post, stepped down as CEO of Star Scientific in November, has been represented by McGuireWoods partner Jerry Kilgore.

McDonnell has steadfastly maintained his innocence. “I’m hoping it will all be resolved in the very near future,” he told the Post last month. If he had been indicted last week, McDonnell would have been the first sitting governor in the state’s history to face criminal charges.

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