RICHMOND Va. (Reuters) - The federal jury hearing the corruption trial of former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell on Friday saw a racy email his wife sent to a businessman, a communication defense attorneys said was proof that the two were having an affair.
Lawyers for McDonnell’s wife, Maureen, said at the start of the trial that the couple’s marriage had been unraveling at the time they accepted gifts from a businessman they said Maureen McDonnell had a “crush” on.
But the businessman, witness Jonnie Williams, has insisted in three days of testimony that the relationship was strictly mercenary, with him offering $165,000 in gifts and loans in hopes of getting help for his company Star Scientific Inc, a nutritional supplement maker.
McDonnell, 60, and his wife are charged with 14 counts of corruption and bribery for allegedly accepting gifts and loans from Williams in exchange for supporting his former company, now known as Rock Creek Pharmaceuticals.
Maureen McDonnell’s attorney on Friday showed the jury at U.S. District Court in Richmond an email his client sent to Williams on Aug. 23, 2011, the day an earthquake rocked the U.S. East Coast.
“I just felt the earth move, and I wasn’t having sex!” wrote the former First Lady of Virginia.
“That (email) was funny,” Williams said with a laugh.
Defense attorneys tried to distance the former governor from Williams, saying the interaction was primarily between the businessman and Maureen McDonnell.
Williams was granted immunity in exchange for his testimony.
If convicted, the McDonnells could face more than 20 years in prison and a large fine.
Williams has asserted that romance was never part of his arrangement with the McDonnells.
“They weren’t my personal friends,” he testified. “It was a business arrangement.”
Williams has testified that he gave the former governor a Rolex watch worth upward of $7,000 and took his wife on a $20,000 shopping spree in New York, all in an effort to persuade them to help promote his products.
While on the stand, Williams described being asked by Virginia State Police investigators if he would be willing to “wear a wire” during a conversation with the governor.
“I stopped the meeting right there, because I felt I needed to call my lawyers in Washington,” Williams said. “I thought the governor was in trouble - and I thought I could be, too.”
Lawyers for McDonnell, a Republican who had once been viewed as a possible White House contender, and his wife have contended that accepting the gifts was unseemly but not illegal.
McDonnell’s four-year gubernatorial term ended in January.
Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Bill Trott, Diane Craft and Gunna Dickson