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Prosecutors: ex-Va. first lady’s conviction should be upheld

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Federal prosecutors said Thursday there is easily enough evidence to support former Virginia first lady Maureen McDonnell’s public corruption convictions and said she has a “fundamental misunderstanding of bribery law.”

In court filings, prosecutors told the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that it is clear McDonnell took illegal steps to benefit a wealthy vitamin executive who lavished McDonnell and her husband, former Gov. Bob McDonnell, with low-interest loans and expensive gifts.

A jury in September found the McDonnells guilty of doing favors for former Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams in exchange for more than $165,000.

Prosecutors pushed back Thursday against the McDonnells’ long-running argument that favors they did for Williams were routine courtesies and not “official acts” required for a bribery conviction.

“Defendant and her husband press for a world where, as far as bribery law is concerned, governors may post signs outside their offices, demanding $50,000 in personal payoffs for a meeting on pending matters or $40,000 per phone call or letter to subordinate executive officials on pending matters,” prosecutors said Thursday. “But the law does not permit that.”

The former Republican governor, once widely considered a possible running mate to former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, was sentenced in January to two years in prison. His wife was sentenced in February to one year and one day in prison. Both are free on bond while they pursue appeals.

According to testimony at the McDonnells’ six-week trial, the governor arranged meetings for Williams with administration officials while Williams was seeking state-financed research on his company’s signature product, the tobacco-derived anti-inflammatory Anatabloc. The first couple also attended events promoting Anatabloc and hosted a product launch event at the Executive Mansion.

Williams lavished the McDonnells with gifts. Those gifts included a New York shopping spree for Maureen McDonnell in which Williams bought her $20,000 worth of designer clothes.

Lawyers for McDonnell have also argued that the jury’s guilty verdicts should be reversed because the presiding judge failed to properly assess whether potential jurors had been biased by the news media’s extensive pre-trial coverage. McDonnell also argues she should have been given a separate trial from her husband.

Prosecutors disputed those arguments Thursday, saying U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer properly handled the case.

McDonnell’s reply brief is due June 11.

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