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Ex-governor of Virginia in court on bribery charges

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[January 24, 2014]  By Gary Robertson

RICHMOND, Virginia (Reuters)  Former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell and his wife are scheduled to make their first court appearances on federal bribery charges on Friday.

McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, were charged this week in a 14-count indictment with accepting bribes from the chief executive of a dietary supplements maker, Star Scientific Inc.

The pair are scheduled to make an initial appearance and be arraigned in federal court, a court filing shows.

McDonnell  who left office this month and was once seen as a potential Republican presidential candidate in 2016  and his wife are alleged to have accepted gifts that included cash, golf fees and clothing, the grand jury indictment said. In exchange, they arranged for Star Scientific executives to meet government officials who could help their business, it said.

The McDonnells, both 59, have denied the charges. If convicted, the couple could face decades in prison and fines totaling well over $1 million.

The indictment portrays McDonnell and his wife, a former cheerleader for the National Football League's Washington Redskins, as short on money and unable to pay the bills for beachfront houses they owned but were renting out.

The relationship with Star Scientific founder and Chief Executive Jonnie Williams began when Wiliams lent his private jet to McDonnell during his 2009 campaign for governor, the indictment said.

The McDonnells got more than $135,000 in direct payments as gifts and loans, as well as thousands of dollars more in golf outings, the indictment said.

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Gifts to the couple and their family ranged from a $6,500 Rolex watch for McDonnell, to wedding and engagement presents and money for his daughters and a $15,000 shopping spree for the first lady.

The indictment also alleges the couple attempted to conceal the gifts from Williams and failed to disclose loans from him.

McDonnell said in July he had repaid $120,000 in loans from Williams, who resigned last month as Star Scientific's CEO.

Current Governor Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, has imposed a $100 limit on gifts to him, his family or members of his administration.

(Editing by Nick Zieminski)

[ 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.]

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