A Dream Catcher for the Cooch

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Last week Governor McDonnell took a long deserved vacation. No more late night calls to get lawyered up. No more side stepping those embarrassing conversations about yet ANOTHER bundle of cash funneled to his wife and family by his Star Scientific best bud Jonnie Williams, bringing the grand total of reported Williams-to-McDonnell-family gifts to $145,000. Presumably, of course, for doing nothing at all.

Besides a slight sense of jealously (let’s face it, netting $145000 for doing nothing at all is a sweet gig), there’s always the possibility that Governor McDonnell actually did do something for that amount of money even though he staunchly assures otherwise:

“I think it’s important that the people of Virginia know that nothing has been done with regard to my relationship with Mr. Williams or his company, Star Scientific, to give any kind of special benefits to him or his company — or frankly any other person or any other company during the time that I’ve been governor.”

But his words and the reality are getting a little out of line. For example, the Virginia Executive Mansion played host to a rollout of Star Scientific’s anti-inflammatory supplement, Anatabloc (that nicotine cum medicine oil thing that best bud Jonnie Williams has been hustling all over the state). And Maureen McDonnell also took a trip to Florida on the state’s dime to speak about the wonders of Anatabloc. And she was listed as a ‘feature speaker’ for Anatabloc in lovely downtown Richmond. And travel records indicate she journeyed to Flint, Mich., later in the year at the same time Star Scientific had another Anatabloc rollout at a nearby country club. And McDonnell did arrange a meeting between our Secretary of Health and Jonnie Williams at a time when it would be truly convenient for Jonnie’s ‘supplement’ to have the blessing of the state Board of Health.

Also, we should note, Attorney General Ken Cucinnelli, the fellow whose office was supposed to prosecute these shenanigans—and never did—has received at least $18,000 from Star Scientific, for which he curiously missed a disclosing deadline (since amended); and one major investment, which, you guessed it, was for Star Scientific. And not too shoddy either. In October, Cuccinelli purchased 5,060 shares of Star Scientific stock at $1.98 share. Or about $10,000. Did I mention this is his ONLY stock investment?

Speaking of investment, last night we learned that the Virginia Retirement System lost some $87,000 dollars to investments in Star Scientific. The manager of the investment team claims the purchase was not influenced by the Governor nor the Attorney General at the time “the decisions were made.” The VRS stock assessment program and the five member review team just picked a dog stock. It’s unfortunate, said R. Ronald Jordan, executive director of the Virginia Governmental Employees Association, that it was “this particular dog.”

Unfortunate, indeed – Star Scientific hasn’t made a profit for ten years.

And then there’s this other odd, late breaking item about free dental work Maureen received from a dentist named Perkinson, who, as it happens, just had a $20 million dollar VCU building named after him by the Governor. McDonnell appointed Perkinson to the VCU board of visitors in July 2010.

So this sounds like a pattern. Or let’s call it ‘learned behavior’…

Lucky for McDonnell and Cuccinelli, they have both successfully survived state legal audits. Thursday, January 18, Michael Herring finished an independent investigation and concluded Cuccinelli had not broken any specific state laws. In April, Cuccinelli appointed former Attorney General Anthony Troy as special counsel to audit McDonnell, and the audit concluded that “he found no proof of any public funds, grants, contract awards or appointments benefiting Williams or his corporate interests.”

I’m no lawyer so I’ll leave it up to our legal profession to discern the rightness of these decisions, but we should keep in mind this is really only part 1.

What Troy and Herring were looking at was state law, and our state law is lax in the area of political gifting. Under Virginia law, officials have to annually disclose any gifts to themselves worth more than $50 but they do not have to notify the state about gifts to immediate family members—at all.

So, it should come as no surprise that the overwhelming beneficiary of all these gifts ($145,000+) have been members of McDonnell’s family and not McDonnell himself. But that’s state law, and Virginia, as noted elsewhere, is one of the most corruptible states in our union, 47th out of 50!

Part 2 is Federal law. This involves something called the Hobbs Act, one section of which makes it illegal for a public official “to obtain a payment to which he is not entitled knowing that it was made in exchange for official acts.” In short, a bribe. Needless to say, Federal rules are a wee bit tougher than those set forth by the 47th most corruptible state in the union.

So while the Governor is finally on vacation, away from this maddening scandal which has plagued the poor man, I suspect there will be some bad dreams and night sweats when he is startled awake and stares at the ceiling, and wonders about the other shoes waiting to drop —the results of that ongoing federal inquiry, whatever revelations may still linger, and, oh yes, the trial that’s coming up shortly.

Not his trial, though. At least not yet, but the trial of a chef. Master Chef Tom Schneider to be exact. You wouldn’t think a man of destiny like McDonnell would care so much about the fate of a lowly chef. But their fates are intertwined, along with our own State Attorney General, Ken Cuccinelli.

To understand this piece of the puzzle, turn back to last February. At that time, governor’s mansion chef Todd Schneider was first accused of embezzling state-bought food. But Schneider claimed in a court filing by his lawyers that he had tried to blow the whistle on the first family nearly a year prior to the embezzlement allegations. He said that he was the first family’s “personal shopper and private caterer” and was called upon to perform duties “far beyond the scope” of his employment, work for which he was not paid, but was later told to ‘take out in trade.’ He also noted that he was only accused of stealing after he brought these matters to the attention of the Attorney General’s office.

In the context of the other revelations regarding the McDonnell’s behavior and their laissez-faire attitude toward the use of state property, a betting man would lay better than even odds on the allegation being true. Who told Schneider to take it out in trade is a different matter—no one knows that yet, but if it was someone in official capacity at the Governor’s office (like say, Maureen McDonnell or a staff member, then there’s some serious law breaking). In an effort to prove his innocence, Schneider provided documents to a lawyer with the Virginia Office of the Attorney General and Virginia State Police troopers showing that Williams paid $15,000 for the catering at the 2011 wedding of the daughter of Gov. McDonnell, even though McDonnell had signed the contract. McDonnell did not disclose the gift, which he said was a wedding present for his daughter. That’s where the scandal really took root. The Attorney General’s office however did not act on these revelations, but instead charged Tom Schneider with four counts of embezzlement.

Later that summer, after charging Tom Schneider with embezzlement, Ken Cuccinelli took advantage of a $3000 vacation at Jonnie William’s lake house. It was time to relax, apparently. Only McDonnell, needless to say, didn’t stop his activities, and Tom Schneider took his accusations to the street.

Since the judge refused to dismiss his case, Tom Schneider’s trial is set for October, in other words, just before the November gubernatorial elections. I’m sure Bob McDonnell is not happy about that. But there’s someone else who is probably even less happy, Ken Cuccinelli.

Like Bob McDonnell he’s probably lying in bed having night sweats thinking of all those other shoes that are out there, ready to drop, wishing it were all just a dream.

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