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Scrutiny continues over McDonnell’s ties with donor

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Posted at 1:57 PM, Jul 03, 2013
and last updated 2013-07-03 13:57:45-04

By Ashley Killough

(CNN) — Gov. Bob McDonnell, already under fire for reported ethics violations, apparently took a flight to the Final Four basketball tournament in April 2011 that was sponsored by one of his political donors, according to the Virginia-Pilot.

The newspaper reports that “people familiar with the trip” now say Jonnie Williams Sr., who heads the health supplement company Star Scientific Inc., covered McDonnell’s travel.

The FBI has been investigating McDonnell’s relationship with Williams for gifts he provided to the governor, including catering for his daughter’s wedding. The federal agency was also determine whether McDonnell, elected in 2009, had taken any government actions that would have benefited Williams’ company.

The Washington Post reported last week that Williams had also purchased a Rolex watch for McDonnell.

As for the Final Four allegations, McDonnell’s spokesman, Tucker Martin, pointed out to the Virginia-Pilot that the trip was logged by the governor’s political action committee, Opportunity Virginia. Around the same time, Star Scientific also made a contribution of $22,371 to the PAC on April 7.

While the latest claim involves air travel to Houston for McDonnell and his family, the Virginia-Pilot reports there’s no indication that Williams paid for any other costs associated with the trip.

Virginia Commonwealth University provided five tickets and five hospitality passes, valued at $280 and $100 each, a university official told the Virginia-Pilot.

State Sen. J. Chapman “Chap” Petersen, D-Fairfax, Tuesday publicly urged the governor to “come clean” about gifts from Williams, saying he should give the gifts back or resign his office, according to the newspaper.

Meanwhile, on another front, The Washington Post reported this week that McDonnell’s former chef, Todd Schneider, said McDonnell directed state employees to work at private and political events. Schneider made the allegations in court documents as he faces charges that he embezzled food from the governor’s mansion when he served as executive chef, according to the Post.

Martin, the spokesman for McDonnell, told the Post that the allegations were “claims made by an individual facing four felony charges of embezzlement.”

“Assertions regarding this matter should be properly considered in a court of law,” he said.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported Wednesday that high-profile Washington lawyer Emmet T. Flood was at the Executive Mansion Tuesday to speak with McDonnell, according to administration officials. Flood represented former President Bill Clinton during his impeachment proceedings. He also worked in the President George W. Bush administration.

McDonnell, who had been considered a potential 2016 presidential contender, acknowledged in late April there was much he wanted to say about the allegations but couldn’t due to the ongoing FBI investigation. McDonnell said there was “nothing going on at all at this time that impairs my ability to do a good job and serve the people of Virginia.”

“I’ve been blessed to have a lot of friends,” McDonnell continued on WTOP radio. “Mr. Williams and his wife Celeste have been family friends for four or five years. I think it’s important the people of Virginia know that nothing has been done with regard to my relationship to Mr. Williams or his company Star Scientific, to give any kind of special benefits to him or his company, or frankly any other person or any other company.”

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