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Former Va. Governor gets two years for public corruption

Bob McDonnellFrom Zoe Tillman From Legal Times

A federal judge in Virginia on Tuesday sentenced former Gov. Robert McDonnell to two years in prison on public corruption charges.

U.S. District Judge James Spencer handed down the sentence after hearing testimony from a string of witnesses who spoke on McDonnell’s behalf. Leading up to Tuesday’s hearing, McDonnell’s lawyers at Jones Day and Holland & Knight filed hundreds of pages of letters from supporters.

McDonnell’s lawyers have already said they plan to appeal the guilty verdict. On Monday, they asked the judge to allow McDonnell to remain free while the case goes before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. The jury also found McDonnell’s wife Maureen guilty of corruption charges. She is scheduled for sentencing on Feb. 20.

The two-year prison term was more than the community service McDonnell’s lawyers requested, but less than the 10-plus years of jailtime prosecutors recommended based on a guideline range of between 121 to 151 months. According to news reports, Spencer on Tuesday reduced the sentencing guidelines to between 78 to 97 months.

McDonnell and his wife were found guilty of accepting money and other gifts from Virginia businessman Jonnie Williams Sr. in exchange for using the power of the governor’s office to promote Williams’ company.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell, head of the U.S. Department of Justice Criminal Division, said in a statement on Tuesday that “taking bribes in exchange for official actions is not politics as usual—it is an insidious crime that strikes at the heart of public service and will not be tolerated.”

Below are highlights from the presentencing arguments both sides made to Spencer in court papers.

From McDonnell’s sentencing memo:

“Bob has consistently adhered to the highest moral standards, respecting the law and acting with honesty, integrity, and sound moral character in every situation.”

“Mr. McDonnell was convicted of performing official acts for Jonnie Williams and Star Scientific in exchange for receiving things of value from them. Mr. McDonnell’s actual conduct, however, differs in critical ways from that of others who have been convicted under the same federal bribery laws.”

“Mr. McDonnell did not demand or receive cash payments from Mr. Williams. He did not take briefcases of money or hide stacks of $100 bills in his freezer. Rather, the quid that the indictment charges that Mr. McDonnell or his family members received were gifts—a wedding gift to Mr. McDonnell’s daughter and several rounds of golf at Mr. Williams’s country club—as well as three loans at commercial rates that the McDonnells paid back with interest. Mr. McDonnell’s decision to accept these items—while certainly poor judgment—must be viewed in the context of Virginia state ethics laws, which (at that time) expressly permitted state officials to accept unlimited gifts of this nature.”

From the Justice Department’s sentencing memo:

“After serving as a prosecutor and attorney general, this defendant corrupted an office that few bribery defendants achieve, and then falsely testified and shifted blame for his actions before the jury that convicted him. Thus, a Guideline sentence appropriately balances the defendant’s prior good deeds with the gravity of his criminal conduct.”

“A guideline sentence is appropriate in this case because of the nature and circumstances of the defendant’s crime, which was neither isolated nor the product of a single criminal choice. Rather, the defendant has been convicted of a bribery conspiracy that lasted nearly two full years, and the defendant repeatedly made conscious decisions to continue that conspiracy time and again over that time.”

“Despite the advantages of his family upbringing and educational opportunities, the defendant chose to violate the trust of the commonwealth’s citizens to line his pockets. Moreover, the defendant continues to blame others and fails to accept any real personal responsibility for his actions.”

IMAGE: Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell arrives at federal court for sentencing in Richmond, Va., Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015. Photo: Steve Helber/AP

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