News Column

Sessoms: McDonnell didn't reveal Williams loans

August 12, 2014

By Bill Sizemore, The Virginian-Pilot



Aug. 12--RICHMOND -- Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms provided key evidence today in the federal corruption trial of former Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, testifying that the ex-governor failed to reveal off-the-books loans from businessman Jonnie Williams when he renewed a mortgage loan at Sessoms' bank.

Making false statements on bank loan papers is a felony, one of the charges in the multiple-count indictment in the McDonnell case.

Sessoms, who described himself as a longtime friend and political supporter of McDonnell, is president of Towne Bank's financial services group in Virginia Beach. The bank held a $722,550 mortgage on one of two rental properties the McDonnells owned in the Sandbridge area.

In 2012, the governor submitted an application to renew the loan. Documents entered into evidence today show that the personal financial statement he submitted with the application failed to list any loans from Williams.

By that time, Williams had given the McDonnells two $50,000 loans -- one made out to Maureen McDonnell in 2011 and another in 2012 made out to the real estate partnership that Bob McDonnell formed with his sister to manage the Sandbridge properties.

Sessoms testified that the governor never told him about the Williams loans.

According to earlier testimony today, Maureen McDonnell provided answers in her initial interview with State Police agents that were at odds with prosecutors' allegations and previous evidence in the trial.

In his interview with the first lady in February 2013, State Police Special Agent Charles Hagan testified, she described businessman Jonnie Williams as a longtime friend of the McDonnell family whom her husband, then-Gov. Bob McDonnell, had met shortly after leaving the Army.

According to online biographies, McDonnell left Army active duty in 1981.

Williams testified last week that he first met Bob McDonnell during the Republican's campaign for governor in 2009.

When Hagan asked the first lady about the $50,000 loan check she received from Williams in 2011, the agent testified, she responded that she had signed a loan agreement with Williams and was making periodic payments.

Hagan said that on his way out from the interview, he asked the first lady for a copy of the loan agreement and she said she would try to get it from Williams.

Her answer about a written agreement contradicted what he had been told three weeks earlier by Williams, Hagan said. In addition, he said, he had examined the first lady's bank records and found no record of any payments to Williams.

Hagan's testimony was corroborated by James Lyons, a second State Police agent who was present for the interview.

The McDonnells are charged with soliciting more than $160,000 in loans, lavish gifts and luxury vacations from Williams in exchange for promoting his diet supplement business from the governor's mansion.

Later today, the jury heard testimony from Donnie Williams, Jonnie Williams' brother, about work he did at his brother's request on the McDonnells' Henrico County home, which they kept while they lived in the governor's mansion.

Donnie Williams said he and several helpers went to the home 10 to 12 times and performed a variety of chores, including replacing damaged hardwood floors, replacing a hot-tub cover, staining the deck, replacing and trimming bushes, and aerating and seeding the lawn.

He said the first lady offered several times to pay for the work, but his brother told him he would pay for it.

After the investigation of the McDonnells became public, Donnie Williams said, the first lady asked him for an invoice. He sent her one with steeply discounted prices, and she sent him a check.

Donnie Williams also said Maureen McDonnell told him she was worried about the $50,000 loan from his brother "because they didn't have a contract."

Earlier today, Dr. George Vetrovec, a cardiologist at the Virginia Commonwealth University medical school, described a memorable encounter with Williams in October 2011.

Williams had requested a meeting to discuss his company's tobacco-based diet supplement Anatabloc, Vetrovec said. When the two met at the medical school, he said, Williams asked: "How much time do you have?"

"I said, 'Thirty minutes.'

"He said, 'Make it 45. The governor's wife makes really nice cookies, and she's made some for us. Let's go over there."

Williams then drove him to the governor's mansion, Vetrovec said. That's when he discovered that an event was being held there to honor Hollywood director Steven Spielberg, who filmed much of his movie "Lincoln" in Richmond.

At Williams' request, Vetrovec said, Maureen McDonnell ushered him to the head of the reception line and introduced him to Spielberg.

The director was "very personable," he said.

"It was a most unusual event," Vetrovec said. "You just don't know what's going to happen every morning when you get up."

Williams was hoping to persuade Vetrovec to participate in scientific studies of Anatabloc that could have led to federal approval of the product as a prescription drug.

He looked into the possibility, but ultimately never initiated the research, Vetrovec said.

"Did you ever get a cookie?" defense attorney Hank Asbill asked.

"No," Vetrovec said.

____

Live chat Wednesday: Join PilotOnline.com at noon for a discussion of the McDonnell trial with Pilot reporters Kathy Adams and Louis Hansen and legal expert Trey R. Kelleter.

___

(c)2014 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)

Visit The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.) at pilotonline.com

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Source: Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, VA)


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