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Star witness ends testimony in Virginia ex-governor's corruption trial

By Gary Robertson

RICHMOND Va. (Reuters) - The star witness for the prosecution in the federal corruption trial of former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell and his wife completed four days of testimony on Monday by detailing financial help he said he had given the couple.

At the start of the trial's second week, Jonnie Williams testified that he looked at his relationship with McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, not as friendship but as business.

McDonnell and his wife are charged with 14 counts of corruption and bribery for allegedly accepting $165,000 in gifts and loans in exchange for supporting Williams' former company, a dietary supplement maker now known as Rock Creek Pharmaceuticals.

Williams, who testified in U.S. district court under immunity from prosecution, said McDonnell had called Williams' father at his request to wish him a happy 80th birthday.

"Was it business to have the governor call your father on his 80th birthday?" asked Henry Asbill, McDonnell's attorney, as he grilled Williams over his meetings with the governor and his immunity agreement.

"I didn't think I could have the governor make the call without all that money," said Williams.

Williams said he gave $50,000 to the couple after Maureen McDonnell told him their credit cards were tapped out, resort rental properties were underwater and money from rentals was not enough to make mortgage payments.

Williams said he found out later that the first lady had spent part of the loan to buy stock in his company. He described it as a “risky investment” for a couple that was in such financial straits.

Williams testified McDonnell called him to say, "I'm a stockholder and I'm rooting for you."

In other testimony, a former aide to McDonnell said Maureen McDonnell tried to pitch Williams’ product, Anatabloc, to Ann Romney, the wife of the 2012 Republican nominee, who suffers from multiple sclerosis.

"I was horrified. It was a train wreck,” said Phil Cox, McDonnell’s chief political adviser when he was governor.

Lawyers for McDonnell, a Republican once seen as a possible White House contender, and his wife have contended that accepting the gifts was unseemly but not illegal.

Defense attorneys have tried to distance the former governor from Williams, saying the interaction was primarily between him and Maureen McDonnell.

The former Virginia first lady's lawyers contend that the couple's marriage was unraveling when they accepted gifts from Williams and that she had a "crush" on Williams.If convicted, the McDonnells could each face more than 20 years in prison and a large fine. McDonnell's four-year term as governor ended in January.

(Writing by Ian Simpson; Editing by Bill Trott and Steve Orlofsky)

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