The high profile corruption trial of former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen is underway, and will feature critical testimony from expert witnesses. Both sides will present expert testimony on a range of topics including computer data, finances and accounting, and Virginia’s laws of gift disclosure required by public servants. Although the jurors will primarily be exposed to first-hand testimony regarding the McDonnell’s behavior, experts will be called to offer factual analysis that supplements, supports, or refutes the key eyewitness accounts.
Former Virginia First Family Charged with Corruption
The McDonnells are charged with receiving over $165,000 in gifts in exchange for using Bob’s political influence to assist Star Scientific in promoting the company’s dietary supplements. Former Star CEO, Jonnie Williams, developed a relationship with Maureen McDonnell, and, according to the prosecution, used his connection to the governor’s wife to pitch widespread distribution and use of Star’s anti-inflammatory product, Anatabloc. In exchange for lavish gifts, shares in Star Scientific, and surreptitious cash payments, Mr. Williams was able to use the governor’s mansion to launch Anatabloc in 2011 and take advantage of the McDonnell’s influence to promote the drug to doctors and pharmacies across Virginia.
Critical to the prosecution’s case against the former governor and his wife are email histories and financial records, some of which have been hidden in concealed electronic files. Throughout the month-long trial, prosecutors are expected to integrate computer and financial expert witnesses into the case to help identify misappropriated funds and illegal gifts given from Williams to the McDonnells.
Computer Expert Witness Testifies Against McDonnell
During the second week of the McDonnell corruption trial, FBI computer expert witness Timothy Huff was called to the stand to explain how metadata – which he called “data about data” – can be used to identify the source of emails and electronic calendar events. Huff was asked to identify whose email account set up certain calendar events that prosecutors argue represent meetings between Maureen McDonnell and Mr. Williams during which she received improper payments. Mr. Huff’s computer expertise was used to connect Maureen to Mr. Williams in an effort to corroborate other testimony about the relationship between the two.
McDonnell Prosecutors Plan More Expert Witnesses
Another computer forensic expert witness will likely be called to testify to dive into the details of an iPhone photo of the governor’s Rolex watch which prosecutors argue was a gift from Williams to the Governor. The defense claims Maureen gave the gift, and Governor McDonnell knew nothing of William’s involvement. The date, time, and origins of the iPhone photo will shed light on how much Bob McDonnell knew, and a computer forensic expert like Mr. Huff will be called to enlighten the jury.
Additionally, the prosecutors will have legal and financial experts explain to the jury what laws the Governor and his wife violated, and how the McDonnell’s financial records are indicative of corruption. As the prosecution presents emails, financial statements, brokerage accounts, and communications regarding Star Scientific and Anatabloc, expert witnesses will be required to simplify what the documents mean and how they relate to the corruption allegations at issue.
McDonnell Defense Team Loses Expert Witness Challenge
Before the trial began, attorneys for the McDonnells unsuccessfully attempted to submit an expert witness who was called to explain the benefits Mr. Williams enjoyed by agreeing to testify against the McDonnells in the criminal trial. Williams, who took the stand under immunity this week to explain his relationship with Maureen McDonnell and detail the gifts he provided to her in exchange for the Governor’s support, is facing a potential civil lawsuit over Star Scientific’s illegal involvement with the McDonnells.
Defense attorneys asked that the judge allow an attorney and forensic accountant to testify as expert witnesses who would explain how Williams would benefit – presumably in an effort to raise the authenticity of his statements into account. Judge James R. Spencer, however, found that testimony to be irrelevant because the jury can apply its “own collective common sense” on how Williams may benefit from the delay in civil litigation, and, further, whether or not that benefit cast doubt on his truthfulness.
Governor McDonnell, who is represented separately, has maintained throughout the trial that he was unaware of the details of his wife’s interaction with Mr. Williams and did not know that Star Scientific was giving her money and buying her gifts. Legal and financial expert witnesses will be asked to explain what Governor McDonnell’s obligations were given his claimed ignorance, and support his statements that he was not personally involved in the corrupt activities of his wife.