By Benjamin May and Sean CW Korsgaard
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – Former Gov. Bob McDonnell was sentenced Tuesday to 24 months in prison after being convicted of 11 felony corruption charges in September.
At a packed hearing at the federal courthouse, U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer sentenced McDonnell, 60, to two years in prison followed by two on probation.
McDonnell will be incarcerated at a federal facility in Petersburg at the request of his defense team. The Federal Bureau of Prisons must determine by Feb. 9 where McDonnell will carry out his sentence.
McDonnell said he was “blinded by the busy-ness of life,” as he accepted responsibility for his actions as governor. He asked that Spencer be lenient with his wife, Maureen McDonnell, at her sentencing Feb. 20.
“A lot of blame was assessed in the case of the defendant’s predicament,” Spencer said before reading the sentence. He said the McDonnells received a fair trial and had ample opportunity to present a rigorous defense.
The defendants filed dozens of motions and were afforded intense examination of witnesses. In short, Spencer said McDonnell was given “all the process that was due him.”
“The defendants had good advice and good counsel all over the place,” the judge said, “but Mrs. McDonnell brought the serpent Jonnie Williams into the mansion, and Mr. McDonnell let him in and out of his finances.”
The McDonnells were convicted of accepting gifts and loans from Williams, the CEO of Star Scientific Inc., in exchange for lending the support of the governor’s office for the company’s dietary supplements.
McDonnell will be under supervised release at the end of his sentence. No fines were imposed because Spencer said “the defendant would be unable to pay them.” However, McDonnell must pay an assessment of $1,100 and may not incur or apply for credit during his probation.
The sentencing began with arguments from the defense on the assessed value of the bribes the McDonnells received from Williams. McDonnell’s lawyers presented the figure of $69,640.53 as opposed to the indictment’s estimate of $177,000. Spencer ultimately said “the government has the best analysis” on how much the gifts and loans were worth.
The defense was able to remove an obstruction enhancement from the sentencing guidelines. This dropped the maximum possible prison term from 12 years to eight years. The prosecution recommended that McDonnell be sentenced to 78 months in prison.
The defense asked that McDonnell be assigned 6,000 hours of community service – about three years of 40-hour work weeks. Operation Blessing International, a nonprofit based in Virginia Beach, said it would welcome McDonnell to work in Haiti or Bristol, Va. The Catholic Diocese of Richmond also said it would welcome McDonnell to work in Southwest Virginia.
The defense introduced nearly 500 letters of support from sources ranging from Democratic U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine to former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. Each of the McDonnells’ children also submitted letters.
In addition, nearly a dozen character witnesses asked for leniency for the disgraced governor.
“If Bob McDonnell were to get 50 years (in prison), he wouldn’t be any more punished,” said former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, a Democrat. Wilder earned applause when he pointed out that Williams, who instigated the corruption charges, will walk away a free man.
McDonnell once was considered a possible running mate for the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, and a possible presidential candidate for 2016. McDonnell delivered the 2010 Republican response to the State of the Union address and was chairman of the Republican Governors Association in 2011.
“I stand before you as a humbled and heartbroken man,” McDonnell said in a final statement to the court before his sentencing. “I hold myself fully accountable for my actions as governor.”
The McDonnell trial put Virginia in the national spotlight, and has sparked calls to reform the state’s ethics laws – a campaign promise of the current governor, Terry McAuliffe.
After the federal court hearing, McAuliffe said that the sentencing “brings an end to one of the most difficult periods in the history of Virginia state government.”
“Like many Virginians, I am saddened by the effect this trial has had on our commonwealth’s reputation for clean, effective government,” McAuliffe said. “As we put this period behind us, I look forward to working with Virginia leaders on both sides of the aisle to restore public trust in our government.”
McDonnell was the first Virginia governor in state history to be indicted or convicted of a felony, His defense team already has filed an appeal.
Capital News Service is a student news-gathering program sponsored by the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture at Virginia Commonwealth University.