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A Portrait of Maureen McDonnell

February 20, 2015

Merriam-Webster.com used Maureen McDonnell’s photo to illustrate the word “harridan.”

Merriam-Webster.com used Maureen McDonnell’s photo to illustrate the word “harridan.”

[This article was published by the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star, the Potomac Local and other CNS clients; it also is featured on Medium.]

By Lyndsey Raynor
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Maureen McDonnell has been painted in two different lights: as a selfless, hardworking, dedicated mother, wife and community leader, and as a hostile and greedy woman responsible for ruining the career of her husband, former Gov. Bob McDonnell, and sending him to jail.

Virginia’s former first lady has been under the media’s scrutiny for two years, since the bribery scheme involving the McDonnells came to light. Last fall, both Bob and Maureen McDonnell were convicted of multiple counts of public corruption. On Friday, Maureen McDonnell was sentenced to a year in prison by U.S. District Court Judge James Spencer.

“The true person she is should not be brushed aside,” Spencer told the courtroom. “This is never a place where she wanted to be.”

Maureen McDonnell’s lawyers asked that she be given probation with 4,000 hours of community service. The prosecution sought a prison term of 18 months.

In handing down a sentence closer to what prosecutors wanted, Spencer apparently rejected the view of Maureen McDonnell portrayed in court papers filed by her defense lawyers on Feb. 6.

The defense team’s sentencing memorandum detailed Maureen McDonnell’s life, including her struggle in the spotlight as first lady, and argued that imprisonment would be inappropriate.

The document said Maureen McDonnell was born into a family dedicated to faith, service and hard work. Both of her parents worked for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. She was the third of nine children.

“Maureen’s devotion to her family extended beyond caring for her siblings and helping her mother take care of the house – Maureen also went to great lengths to make her father happy,” defense lawyers said. They said Maureen McDonnell became a Washington Redskins cheerleader to please her father in the early 1970s.

The former governor and his wife met in 1973 while he was a student at Notre Dame.

“She found in Bob a man committed to the same values her parents had engrained in her: faith, service, discipline, and hard work,” the memorandum continued. The couple was married in 1976. Following their wedding, Maureen McDonnell devoted herself to a life of serving others, her lawyers wrote.

In 1991, Bob McDonnell ran in his first campaign, for a Virginia Beach seat in the House of Delegates. Defense lawyers described this time in Maureen’s life as stressful as she cared for five children and supported her husband’s career.

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“Maureen continued to shore up the family finances by waiting tables, installing water filters, and continuing home-based businesses that would allow her to earn an income and look after the children at the same time.”

In 2009, Bob McDonnell resigned as attorney general to run for governor. During his campaign, family friends stated that Maureen McDonnell felt the pressure to hold the family together as her husband was busy with politics. Around the same time, both of Maureen McDonnell’s parents died, and her sister became very ill.

“As the wife of a gubernatorial candidate, the campaign leaned heavily on Maureen, asking her to hit the campaign trail with Bob and on her own, make public speeches at rallies, and represent her husband in his most important campaign yet,” the memorandum said.

“Maureen struggled to cope with the demands of the campaign, and at times, the pressure overwhelmed her. … But the campaign was merely the frying. The fire of the Executive Mansion was next.

“Maureen’s uneasiness with public attention, separation from Bob, and financial insecurity, long simmering over the course of Bob’s political career, boiled over when she moved into the Executive Mansion.”

When Bob McDonnell was governor, Maureen McDonnell “saw even less of her husband, and her last remaining children left home for college. Surrounded by a dedicated staff and the countless guests and events at the Mansion, Maureen had never felt more alone,” the memo said.

“The hubbub of life at the Mansion only compounded Maureen’s discomfort. Thrust in the middle of the Richmond high-end political scene, Maureen was expected to make speeches, host events, and represent Bob on the public stage – things she felt unqualified to do. …

“But there is no doubt that Maureen was unsuited to this new level of public scrutiny and deathly afraid of letting down her husband. Her fear fed into a vicious cycle of anxiety that spilled out on her staff and sometimes on Bob.”

The McDonnells were convicted in September of taking gifts and loans from Jonnie Williams, the CEO of Star Scientific Inc., in exchange promoting the company’s dietary supplements.

In the document, the former first lady and her defense lawyers argued that 18 months or more of imprisonment would be disproportionate to the crime involved.

Maureen McDonnell has no other criminal history. Her attorneys cited Maureen McDonnell’s character and accomplishments and the humiliation she has suffered. They said the media have ripped Maureen McDonnell to shreds, inflicting the greatest punishment that can be levied on her.

On Jan. 6, Bob McDonnell was sentenced to two years in prison for his conviction on 11 counts of corruption. Both sides agreed that because Maureen McDonnell was not a public official, and because she was convicted of only eight counts, she should receive less time.

Prosecutors said that she fully participated in the bribery conspiracy with her husband and that since being convicted, she had not expressed remorse for her actions.

In a document filed in U.S. District Court on Feb. 6, prosecutors listed a dozen bribes the McDonnells received, including “$19,289.28 for the April 2011 shopping spree” that Maureen McDonnell enjoyed in New York and “$6,500 for the Rolex Mrs. McDonnell solicited in August 2011.”

“Because Mrs. McDonnell was a full participant in a bribery scheme that sold the Governor’s office in exchange for luxury goods and sweetheart loans, many of which she solicited personally and because she repeatedly attempted to thwart the investigation through false representations, it would be unjust for her not to serve a period of incarceration for her crimes,” prosecutors said.