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Corruption criminal defense falls short for ex-governor, wife

A conviction on public corruption charges can be a game-ender for a politician. The former governor of Virginia and his wife, Bob and Maureen McDonnell, recently were found guilty of a total of 20 corruption-related allegations. The ex-governor, who served as the state's highest official from 2010 until last January, was convicted of 11 conspiracy counts. Maureen was found guilty of obstruction of justice and conspiracy charges.

The McDonnells, both 60 years old, pleaded not guilty. Their criminal defense attorneys claimed the charges were invalid, because the 38-year marriage was troubled. They said that the McDonnells, who have five children, had communicated very little for at least 10 years, and that when they did, they fought about money.

Prosecutors viewed the McDonnells' financial hardships in a different light. Credit card bills totaling up to $90,000 and poor property investments left the McDonnells in dire straits. The state thought that those financial problems made the couple ripe for the temptation of expensive gifts from a donor in exchange for supporting the man's business.

A jury deliberated 48 hours before returning guilty verdicts. The couple's sentencing is set for January.

The McDonnells were accused of taking $177,000 in gifts that included money, clothes, a Rolex watch and golf gear from the man who founded Star Scientific Inc., a dietary supplements company. The jury was convinced that the McDonnells abused their positions and knew the presents were part of a reciprocal agreement, requiring the couple to introduce the man to "the right people," like state officials at the governor's mansion.

The jury did not believe the former governor's testimony stating that the couple did no more for the business owner than they would have for any other business person. Maureen McDonnell, through her lawyer, said she felt genuine "affection" for the business owner and his products.

Public corruption laws are extremely complex and highly nuanced. A plaintiff's legal representatives must understand the subtleties within the laws to take the correct criminal defense posture.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, "Former Virginia Gov. McDonnell and Wife Found Guilty" Valerie Bauerlein and Dawn Chase, Sep. 04, 2014

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