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Virginia's Former First Lady Maureen McDonnell Sentenced To 1 Year In Prison

Former Virginia first lady Maureen McDonnell (left) arrives at federal court in Richmond, Va., with her son Bobby for her sentencing on corruption charges Friday.
Steve Helber
Former Virginia first lady Maureen McDonnell (left) arrives at federal court in Richmond, Va., with her son Bobby for her sentencing on corruption charges Friday.

A federal judge has sentenced Maureen McDonnell, the wife of former Gov. Bob McDonnell, to 12 months in prison, plus one day. Last fall, a jury found the McDonnells guilty in a corruption trial that charged them with taking gifts and loans from a vitamin entrepreneur in exchange for favors.

U.S. District Judge James Spencer delivered the sentence in Richmond this morning. He said McDonnell could be freed on bond pending an appeal.

Before Friday's sentencing, prosecutors were seeking 18 months in prison for Maureen McDonnell. Her defense attorneys asked that her sentence consist only of community service work.

Speaking on her own behalf around midday Friday, McDonnell expressed remorse, but she also sought to portray her actions as mistakes, not crimes. She then asked the judge to consider the ordeal she has already endured as part of her punishment.

"My marriage is broken," she told the court, according to NBC 4 TV's reporter Scott MacFarlane, adding, "My reputation is shattered."

McDonnell spoke after prosecutors insisted that the former first lady knew she was breaking the law when she accepted gifts from businessman Jonnie Williams.

In her speech, McDonnell compared Williams to a snake.

The hearing began with an argument over the monetary value of the gifts McDonnell received — a key detail directly affecting her punishment.

After a debate, the judge "overruled objections from the defense and said that because the total valuation of the alleged bribes was over $70,000, the sentencing guidelines should stand at 63 to 78 months," according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Several character witnesses testified for McDonnell Friday, with friends, government officials and family members describing her as someone with good intentions who was overwhelmed by the task of being first lady.

Saying that her mother "feels she has lost everything," McDonnell's daughter Rachel said (according to Times-Dispatch reporter Graham Moomaw), "I don't know how much more she can handle."

Last month, Bob McDonnell was sentenced to two years in prison, but a separate court ruled that he can remain free while his appeal is reviewed. McDonnell attended today's hearing to support his wife, he said — but as was often the case during their trial, they arrived at the courthouse separately.

In September, the former governor was found guilty of 11 of 14 charges. Maureen McDonnell was found guilty of nine of 14 charges, including obstruction of justice.

The case has attracted rapt attention in Virginia, where people gawked at the spectacle of a power couple seemingly imploding on every level. Their trial included allegations of an improper relationship between Maureen McDonnell and Williams; details of the first couple's dysfunctional relationship; and the former first lady's former chief of staff calling her a "nutbag."

For more background on the case, here's member station WAMU:

"Maureen McDonnell was never an elected official, but she was at the heart of the prosecutors' case against the former governor — a case that included evidence and testimony about a wealthy Virginia businessman who began his relationship with the McDonnells by offering to buy her an Oscar de la Renta dress for the inauguration.

"She was also at the heart of the defense team's unsuccessful strategy, which was that she could not have conspired with her husband because their marriage was falling apart and she was barely on speaking terms with him."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.

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