RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The FBI has begun looking at the relationship between Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and the chief executive of a nutritional supplements manufacturer that is the subject of an investigation, two people with knowledge of the review said.
Federal authorities began questioning people close to McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, as an outgrowth of a securities probe of Virginia-based Star Scientific Inc., said the two people, who spoke Monday on the condition of anonymity because their roles in the case preclude them from speaking publicly.
They said FBI agents have asked questions about gifts the McDonnells have received from company CEO Jonnie Williams and whether the Republican governor or his administration aided the company in return.
The review was first reported Monday by The Washington Post.
Earlier in the day, Todd Schneider, the former governor’s mansion chef who faces four felony counts alleging he stole from the mansion, alleged in court papers that he gave FBI and state police investigators evidence a year ago of wrongdoing and abuse by McDonnell and his family. This included documents showing Williams paid $15,000 to help cover the costs of catering done by Schneider’s private company for a June 2011 mansion wedding reception for McDonnell’s daughter Cailin, court papers show.
McDonnell did not disclose the gift on his January 2012 statement of economic interests, noting that state law requires only that gifts to elected officials themselves, not family members, be reported.
An FBI spokeswoman refused to comment Monday evening, as did the office of U.S. Attorney Neil McBride.
There was no reply late Monday night to email and telephone messages left for McDonnell’s chief spokesman, J. Tucker Martin, about the FBI review. Earlier Monday, Martin said Schneider’s allegations were part of “an inquiry for the prosecution as it involves a pending matter in the upcoming embezzlement trial of the former Mansion chef, and we will not comment on it.”
Jerry W. Kilgore, an attorney for Williams, said his client would have no comment.
The ex-chef’s case has tarnished the rising GOP star that McDonnell had been a year ago, when he was considered a potential running mate for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
The two people close to the review said questions about the McDonnells arose from the securities investigation into Star Scientific, which the company disclosed last month. They said federal investigators want to know the extent of gifts to McDonnell’s family and what the governor or the administration may have done to promote a Star Scientific food supplement marketed as Anatabloc.
McDonnell’s administration said the governor’s efforts to assist Star Scientific are no different than what the governor has done to help hundreds of Virginia-based businesses grow and prosper.
According to the Virginia Public Access Project, a nonprofit tracker of money in Virginia politics, Williams has given McDonnell’s political action committee nearly $80,000 and gave his 2009 campaign for governor $28,584. It also shows McDonnell receiving personal gifts totaling $7,382 from the company in 2012.
Monday’s reports of FBI interest in the case along with the motions filed in Schneider’s case are the first to directly allege misconduct by Virginia’s governor and his family in the continuing criminal investigation arising from kitchen operations at the 200-year-old Virginia Executive Mansion, the official home of the state’s governors and the longest-serving gubernatorial residence of any state.
Schneider had headed the kitchen operations from 2010, when McDonnell moved in, until last year, when he was dismissed after a state police inquiry began into alleged improprieties in the mansion’s kitchen.
Schneider is facing four counts of taking state property worth $200 or more in the last half of 2011 and early 2012. Monday’s filings came as part of a motion seeking to dismiss charges against Schneider at a hearing in the case scheduled for Thursday.
The motion alleges Schneider told investigators the mansion staff and other state employees had witnessed him being instructed to take state-purchased food as payment for personal services, and that they saw others “openly taking cases of food and other supplies from the Governor’s Mansion.”
The motion also accuses Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican candidate for governor this year, of prosecuting Schneider in an attempt to protect his political interests in his gubernatorial bid — “a campaign for which he needs substantial political donations and the support of the current Governor of Virginia.”
He alleges Cuccinelli ignored evidence that Schneider provided about McDonnell’s ties to Williams because the attorney general had also received thousands of dollars in gifts from the same business executive.
Cuccinelli filed a motion last week to recuse his office from prosecuting Schneider, citing conflicts of interest. But the motion says Cuccinelli should have recused his office from the case a year ago.
Cuccinelli’s campaign said in a release: “Todd Schneider is facing multiple indictments for stealing. Ultimately he will face a jury of his peers.”
Political and official aides to Cuccinelli dismissed the motion by Schneider’s attorney, Steven D. Benjamin of Richmond, as a further effort to politicize and sensationalize a criminal trial.