RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A defense attorney questioned the key witness in former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell's corruption trial on Monday about lawsuits he and his former company face over allegations of securities violations.
The line of questioning is the latest effort by defense attorneys to challenge the credibility of former Star Scientific Inc. CEO Jonnie Williams, who is testifying against McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, under an immunity agreement.
The McDonnells are charged with accepting more than $165,000 in gifts and loans from Williams, the former CEO of dietary supplements maker Star Scientific Inc., in exchange for helping promote his company's products. They could face decades in prison if convicted.
Williams acknowledged Monday that Star faced about a half-dozen shareholder lawsuits, calling them "nuisance suits." He also acknowledged that Star received a warning from federal regulators over Star's claims about its signature product.
Bob McDonnell's attorney, Henry Asbill, questioned Williams about his immunity agreement. He reminded Williams that he testified that a company's first responsibility is to stay in business.
"Would you agree the second rule of business is not to go to jail," Asbill asked. Said Williams: "I don't think any businessman wants to go to jail."
Asbill also sought to undermine Williams' claim that his relationship with the McDonnells was strictly business, noting that Williams had the governor call the businessman's father on his 80th birthday. Williams said he thought his spending on the McDonnells made that possible.
"This cost me, in my mind, hundreds of thousands of dollars even to be able to do that," he said.
Williams said last week that he and the McDonnells had a business relationship and were not personal friends. Defense attorneys sought last week to contradict that claim by noting that Williams and Maureen McDonnell exchanged more than 1,200 text messages and phone calls in less than two years.
Maureen McDonnell's attorney said in opening statements that the first lady developed a "crush" on Williams and was conned into believing he cared for her.
Williams has testified there was no romantic relationship, and he reiterated that Monday. He testified that he never had any intimate physical contact with McDonnell's wife. Williams said Monday that he didn't know Maureen McDonnell had any interest in him until last week.
He said Maureen McDonnell requested many of the gifts — including a $20,000 shopping spree for designer clothes in Manhattan and a Rolex watch for her husband — as well as a $50,000 to bail the couple out of financial trouble. Williams said Bob McDonnell asked for an additional $20,000 loan later.
He also detailed many of the events the McDonnells attended to promote his company's signature product, Anatabloc.