Bob and Maureen McDonnell's Corruption Case Begins

The ugly details of a marriage that was falling apart in the governor's mansion will get dragged in front a jury in the coming weeks as former Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, fight federal corruption charges.

Their marriage was so broken that a smooth-talking salesman was able to “dupe” Maureen McDonnell into thinking he cared for her, the McDonnells' attorneys said Tuesday. Now the couple is accused of taking bribes from that salesman, former Star Scientific CEO Jonnie R. Williams Sr., and promoting a company product in return.

Attorneys gave opening arguments in the case against the McDonnells on Tuesday, and the first few prosecution witnesses took the stand, including one of the McDonnells' daughters and Williams' personal assistant.

Defense attorneys said Williams showered Maureen McDonnell with cash, gifts and the attention a busy governor didn't have time to give.

“He listened to her,” said Bill Burck, Maureen McDonnell's lead attorney. “He spent time with her. ... She had a crush on Jonnie Williams.

“She thought he liked her, too,” Burck said.

Williams also fooled the federal government, according to Burck and the other attorneys mounting a vigorous defense for the former first couple. Williams changed his story about interactions with the McDonnells repeatedly, until he had something worth immunity from federal prosecutors, they told jurors. And not just in this case, but for a shady $10 million stock deal as well, they said.

McDonnell himself will take the stand to refute Williams' story, according to his lead attorney, John Brownlee. It may be a while, though. The prosecution lists 61 potential witnesses, and it may be weeks before the defense presents its version of the case.

Williams is the prosecution's chief witness as it looks to prove numerous counts of corruption against the couple. The U.S. Attorney's Office says the McDonnells took more than $150,000 in gifts and loans, many kept secret — and promoted Anatabloc, a controversial supplement Williams was seeking to build credibility for and market.

Government attorneys told jurors not to buy into a defense smoke screen that paints Williams and Maureen McDonnell as true friends, or something more. It was “always just a business relationship,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Aber said.

“(The McDonnells) knew what Mr. Williams wanted, and they gave it to him,” she said.

Aber gave jurors a taste of the massive volume of emails, texts and other records the government will present in coming weeks. The records show Williams writing five-figure checks for the couple, with one coming just days before the governor set a meeting between Williams and key state officials.

Aber also said McDonnell drove Williams' Ferrari three hours back to Richmond — from a weekend family vacation spent at Williams' lake house — then emailed a cabinet secretary to set a meeting with Williams the next morning.

She repeatedly referred to Williams as “a vitamin salesman.”

Defense attorneys said Williams' relationship was primarily with Maureen McDonnell, and that she was “a true believer” in Anatabloc. Daughter Cailin Young testified that her mother had been interested in supplements since a breast cancer scare in her late teens and said her mother recommended Anatabloc to her for joint issues.

Burck told jurors that Maureen McDonnell “drank the Kool-Aid” on the product.

Prosecutors said the governor was far more involved in efforts to get into Williams' pockets than the defense let on.

“The governor himself was asking for money,” Aber told jurors, highlighting a text in which McDonnell asked for a $20,000 loan.

Brownlee characterized the governor's support for Star Scientific as ordinary for a politician focused on job creation, given that the company was headquartered in Virginia. He noted that Star Scientific never got a state grant or contract.