'71st Governor of Virginia' engraved on a Rolex
Just when it seemed the controversy surrounding Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) couldn't get worse, it gets worse.
A prominent political donor purchased a Rolex watch for Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, according to two people with knowledge of the gift, and the governor did not disclose it in his annual financial filings.
The $6,500 luxury watch was provided by wealthy businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr., the people said. He is the chief executive of dietary supplement manufacturer Star Scientific and the person who paid for catering at the wedding of the governor's daughter.
Coincidentally, the governor's Rolex, engraved with the inscription "71st Governor of Virginia," arrived about two weeks after Williams met with a leading state health official about his products. The meeting was arranged by Maureen McDonnell, the governor's wife.
And given the luxurious gifts Maureen McDonnell received from Williams, this isn't a good development.
Indeed, in this case, the Washington Post reported that Virginia's First Lady was the one who encouraged Williams to buy the Rolex for the governor -- a recommendation she made "moments before the meeting she had arranged" with the state health official.
Making matters slightly worse, the governor's office insisted months ago that neither McDonnell nor his wife ever "led an effort to lower health care costs in Virginia by encouraging the use of Anatabloc," Williams' product. What the statement neglected to mention that what happened outside Virginia: "On June 1 -- three days before [the governor's daughter's] wedding -- Maureen McDonnell flew to Florida, where she touted the potential benefits of Anatabloc before a gathering of doctors and investors interested in learning more about its key chemical. There, one attendee said, she said she believed Anatabloc could be used to lower health costs."
Remember when Bob McDonnell's biggest problem was that he was "Governor Ultrasound"?
I don't think this ongoing corruption controversy could get much worse, but then again, I've thought that before and been proven wrong.
Re: '71st Governor of Virginia' engraved on a Rolex
Probe into gifts to McDonnells finds new undisclosed items valued at tens of thousands
Virginia law allows elected officials to accept gifts of any value, provided that they annually disclose those worth more than $50.
Since taking office in 2010, McDonnell has disclosed receiving $9,650 in personal gifts — including private plane rides and a summer lake-house vacation — from Williams and Star Scientific.
A Democratic state senator called on Virginia’s governor to detail and return gifts from a donor or resign.
Ex-chef: Governor used Va. assets for personal and political purposes
State law does not require officials to disclose gifts that have been given to members of their immediate family. McDonnell has said that is why he did not disclose the $15,000 check for his daughter’s wedding, which he said was a gift to his daughter.
As public scrutiny of his relationship with Williams has mounted, McDonnell has declined to provide a full accounting of other gifts Williams provided to members of the McDonnell family.
A local prosecutor in Richmond is conducting a parallel investigation to the federal probe to determine whether McDonnell complied with state law in his annual financial filings.
That investigation could explore whether the governor received enough benefit from gifts given to his wife — particularly loans or gifts of money — that he should have considered them gifts to himself as well.
Federal authorities are exploring whether McDonnell performed official acts to boost the company in exchange for gifts from Williams, people familiar with the inquiry have said.
Three days before the 2011 wedding, Maureen McDonnell flew to Florida, where she touted the promise of a dietary supplement that Star Scientific was introducing to doctors and investors.
Three months later, the McDonnells allowed Star Scientific to use the 200-year-old Executive Mansion for an event to mark the launch of Anatabloc, which is an anti-inflammatory, non-FDA approved pill.
The first lady organized the event, but the governor also attended. His spokesman has said he stopped in to recognize the company for making grants to public universities.
The federal probe appears not to be limited to the McDonnells’ interactions with Williams.
State Del. David I. Ramadan (R-Loudoun), who confirmed this month that he has been subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury next month, has said he has no connection to Williams or his company.
Ramadan, who is a jeweler, has declined to say whether he gave gifts to Maureen McDonnell.
Kluge, too, has no obvious connection to Star Scientific.
She has been active politically in Virginia but has given largely to Democrats, including more than $125,000 to Sen. Timothy M. Kaine’s gubernatorial campaign and inauguration. In 2010, however, she gave a $10,000 campaign contribution to McDonnell’s Inaugural Committee.
Friendly with the McDonnells, she served for 18 months in 2010 and 2011 as chairwoman of the Citizens’ Advisory Committee for Furnishing and Interpreting the Executive Mansion, a panel appointed by the governor and whose honorary head is the first lady.
For two decades, Kluge reigned as a particular kind of Virginia royalty, entertaining high society at her 45-room, 23,000-square-foot estate not far from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, outside of Charlottesville.
She had built the mansion with billionaire husband John Kluge, who was the nation’s wealthiest person during their marriage. Patricia Kluge kept the home after they divorced in 1990.
She later built a winery on 900 acres that was the crown jewel of the burgeoning Virginia wine industry. But her debts mounted amid the financial crash, and she declared bankruptcy in 2011.
Trump, a longtime friend, purchased Kluge’s holdings from trusts and banks, buying the winery in 2011 and her famed Albemarle House a year later.
Martin, the governor’s spokesman, said that before the sale at public auction, Secretary of Agriculture Todd Haymore had worked to identify potential buyers.
Martin said all efforts to save the enterprise were coordinated by Haymore, who had also worked with Kluge during the Kaine administration. He said it was in the best interest of the state to find a buyer.
“While Mrs. Kluge is a friend of the McDonnells, the Kluge Vineyard was Virginia’s largest and thus had a direct impact on the growing Virginia wine industry,” Martin said.
Eric Trump, who oversaw the purchase of the winery for the Trump Organization, said in an interview that while the McDonnells were supportive of the Trump takeover, they had no personal role in the deal.
“The governor, obviously, I think he’s probably a big proponent of ours — as would be any governor,” Trump said. But, he added, “the governor didn’t have a role in the sale.”
Trump said he has not been subpoenaed to appear at the grand jury or been interviewed by the FBI.
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