News Column

Former Virginia Gov. McDonnell says feds block search for evidence against star witness

February 15, 2014

By Dave Ress, Daily Press (Newport News, Va.)



Feb. 15--Federal prosecutors have stymied a search for evidence against their star witness in their corruption case against Gov. Bob McDonnell, the former governor's lawyers say.

McDonnell's lawyers say the prosecutors' intervention in a securities fraud case against former Star Scientific chief executive officer Jonnie Williams was intended to block release of information that could help the former governor defend himself.

Williams showered $165,000 in gifts and loans on McDonnell and his family, in what federal prosecutors say was an attempt to use the governor's influence to promote Star Scientific and a new product.

Accepting the gifts and the money is a violation of federal law, the prosecutors say. McDonnell says he did nothing in return, and the events he hosted and meetings he arranged were the kind of thing Virginia politicians routinely do for donors and friends.

Williams has won immunity from federal charges, and Star last year disclosed that because of its cooperation with the federal prosecutors it did not expect to be prosecuted.

But Williams and the company have been sued by stockholders, charging that he and the company misled them about its finances, products and prospects.

In one Virginia case, federal prosecutors last month won a court order halting discovery -- the stockholders' efforts to compel release of documents and other evidence from Williams, Star and other Star officials.

In requesting the order, prosecutors said the stockholders' efforts could open the door for McDonnell to subvert the government's own discovery efforts in the criminal case.

McDonnell's lawyers said that translates into a campaign to keep them from unearthing evidence that impeaches Williams' credibility, or that might uncover misdeeds by Williams or that could reveal evidence that contradicts what Williams told federal investigators as they built their case against the former governor.

"The effect of this maneuvering has been to confine a great deal of exculpatory evidence to the files or minds of entities ... whom the government can confidently expect will refuse to share that information with the defense counsel (since Star Scientific does not expect to be prosecuted itself)," McDonnell's lawyers said. "The Government has thus attempted to ensure that this evidence will remain hidden."

They asked U.S. District Court Judge James J. Spencer to order prosecutors to turn over all material it has about Williams and Star and to withdraw its request to halt discovery in the stockholder lawsuit.

Ress can be reached by phone at 757-247-4535.

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Source: Daily Press (Newport News, VA)


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