Feb 20

Former First Lady of Virginia Sentenced: Did Husband’s “Throw Momma Off the Train” Approach Work?

Photo: Associated Press

Readers of the White Collar Alert know that we have been closely following the downward spiral of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen McDonnell after their ill-fated relationship with Virginia businessman, Jonnie R. Williams Sr. Maureen McDonnell was convicted of eight counts of corruption and one count of obstruction of justice, but then acquitted on the obstruction charge after Judge Spencer found that there was insufficient evidence.  Judge Spencer sentenced her to 12 months and 1 day in prison.

Her husband was sentenced on January 6, 2015 to two years in prison, which we noted was a significant victory for the defense, considering the fact that it was a large reduction from the 10 to 12 year sentence recommended by the U.S. Probation Office and the 6 to 8 year sentence that the Court calculated using the Sentencing Guidelines. Mr. McDonnell was convicted of 11 counts of corruption as well as one count of making a false statement. In Mrs. McDonnell’s case, the prosecutors sought a total of 18 months in prison (despite a possible range of up to 6 1/2 years) while the defense requested a probationary sentence with community service.

So what could have prompted Judge Spencer to mostly follow the prosecutor’s request for a sentence of incarceration when the defense presented a strong case for probation? Especially in light of his substantial downward departure for her husband, it wasn’t out of the question that he could have decided that a very lenient sentence would be sufficient here: Mrs. McDonnell was being sentenced on 4 fewer counts, and Justice Spencer acknowledged at her husband’s sentencing that “while Mrs. McDonnell may have allowed the serpent into the mansion, the governor knowingly let him into his personal and business affairs.”

Today was the first time the public heard extensively from Mrs. McDonnell, who was tearful and at one point said “I am the one who opened the door and I blame no one but myself.” She also thanked Judge Spencer for “showing mercy to my husband.” Mr. McDonnell was present in the courtroom but remained quiet, a stark contrast to his earlier behavior. During the trial, he spent approximately 24 hours on the witness stand and explained in detail how his marriage was broken, how his wife sought attention from Jonnie R. Williams Sr., and he claimed to be clueless about many of his wife’s actions.

Judge Spencer acknowledged that Mr. McDonnell’s attorneys had presented a “let’s throw momma under the bus defense” at trial and that his sentencing had also focused on “throw[ing] momma off the train.” Despite recognizing Mr. McDonnell’s improper deflection of culpability, however, Judge Spencer said that he did not want to allow a wide disparity between Mr. and Mrs. McDonnells’ sentences because there was “joint criminal behavior.” It is impossible to ever know just how much her husband’s extensive and detailed testimony against her contributed to the Judge’s sentencing decision today. But I can’t help wondering what both of their respective sentences might have been had Mr. McDonnell not given such testimony that painted his wife in a very harsh light.

Leave a Reply