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Executive: 'Didn't want anyone to know' of gifts to former Virginia governor

By Gary Robertson

RICHMOND Va. (Reuters) - The businessman who, federal prosecutors say, gave gifts and loans to former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell and his wife said Thursday he kept the largesse secret because he knew he was giving bribes to help his diet-supplements company.

McDonnell, 60, and his wife Maureen have been charged with 14 counts of corruption and bribery for taking more than $165,000 in gifts and loans from Jonnie Williams in exchange for promoting his company, Star Scientific Inc, which has since changed its name to Rock Creek Pharmaceuticals.

"I didn't want anyone to know," Williams said on the third day of the McDonnells' trial at U.S. District Court in Richmond.

Williams, who is no longer employed by the company, said Maureen McDonnell opened up the governor’s mansion in August 2011 for a luncheon to mark the launch of a Star Scientific product. The governor also attended the event.

Under close questioning by Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Dry, Williams acknowledged that by the time of the mansion event, he had already loaned the couple $50,000, taken Maureen McDonnell on a $20,000 New York shopping spree and spent $15,000 on a wedding reception for one of the couple's daughters.

"Did you think you would have had that event if you had not given them those things?" Dry asked.

"I did not," Williams replied.

Prosecutors contend the product launch at the mansion was just one of the many ways that the couple helped Williams advance his company. Defense attorneys had portrayed the relationship between Williams and Maureen McDonnell as more than mercenary, contending in opening statements that the governor's wife had developed a "crush" on Williams at a time when her marriage was falling apart.

They said the McDonnells were barely talking when they accepted gifts, which meant they could not have conspired.

The McDonnells have said in court filings there was no evidence they agreed to use their power to aid Williams. The former Republican governor, who left office in January at the end of his four-year term, had been mentioned as a possible 2016 presidential candidate before the scandal erupted.

If convicted, the couple face more than 20 years in prison and a large fine.

Williams has been granted immunity in exchange for his testimony.

(Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Bill Trott and Bernadette Baum)

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