By Gary Robertson
RICHMOND Va. (Reuters) - The wife of former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell was known among staffers for hiding gifts in the executive mansion, an aide to the governor testified during the first couple's corruption trial on Friday.
Matt Conrad, McDonnell's deputy chief of staff, said aides were worried that if some of the gifts hidden by first lady Maureen McDonnell were also intended for the governor they needed to be recorded on financial disclosure forms.
"I heard there were piles of gifts in closets,” Conrad said on the 10th day of the trial in U.S. District Court.
McDonnell, a Republican, and his wife face 14 counts of corruption and bribery for allegedly accepting the gifts and loans from businessman Jonnie Williams Sr. in exchange for supporting his former company Star Scientific, a dietary supplements maker.
Paul Perito, the former chairman and chief operating officer of Star Scientific, now known as Rock Creek Pharmaceuticals Inc, testified that he had no idea of Williams' largesse towards the McDonnells.
Perito said he knew that Williams was playing golf with the governor and having dinner with the first lady. He generally thought courting them was a good idea.
“If the governor of the state embraces the product ... it gives it credibility,” Perito said.
He added that the governor told him that he personally took Anatabloc, Star Scientific's main product, at a launch of the product at the governor’s mansion in August 2011.
McDonnell also suggested to him that the firm apply for funding for product studies from the Virginia Tobacco Commission.
Perito said he never knew about the Rolex watch Williams bought for the governor or the personal loans he had made to the couple until after Williams was questioned by federal and state investigators in January 2013.
He said Williams called him and disclosed everything.
“I was astounded,” Perito said.
Perito said he immediately called company lawyers to discuss the implication of Williams' actions on the company and its investors.
To win a conviction, prosecutors must convince the jury that the governor took official acts to help Williams. Attorneys for the couple have argued that accepting the gifts and money was unseemly but not illegal.
If convicted, the McDonnells could face more than 20 years in prison and a large fine. McDonnell's four-year term as governor ended in January.
(Reporting by Gary Robertson; Writing by Ian Simpson; Editing by Bill Trott and Eric Beech)