RICHMOND -- Jonnie Williams’ longtime business partner took the stand late Friday morning to answer lengthy questions about his relationship with Williams and his role at Star Scientific during the time Williams allegedly paid $165,000 in gifts, cash and loans to former Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen.
Paul Perito served as president, COO and chairman of the board at Star Scientific starting in 2005. Star is the company founded by Jonnie Williams. Williams has said he bribed the McDonnells in exchange for their help marketing a new dietary supplement manufactured by Star.
On the stand Friday, Perito told jurors that Williams made “an egregious error in judgment,” in giving the loans, cash and gifts to Virginia’s former first couple.
Perito testified that he did not know about the gifts or loans, Williams’ extensive relationship with the McDonnells nor any of the other sordid details that have emerged in the press over the past year prior to a phone call between the two men in January 2013.
According to Perito, Williams called him after being interviewed by an FBI agent and VSP investigator who showed up unannounced at his home in Florida.
Perito said he was shocked to hear Williams’ admissions in that conversation.
“I was breathless,” Perito said. “I said, 'How could you possible do this? How could you leave me out of the loop?'”
Perito said the conversation was very emotional and that Williams was sobbing.
Had he known about any of Williams’ behavior before it happened, Perito said, he would have stopped it immediately.
“We would never all be here today,” he said. “I would have put a stop to it.”
Before taking the helm at Star Scientific, Perito previously worked in private legal practice defending clients accused of white collar crimes and, before that, as a federal prosecutor and other posts in the Nixon Administration.
One thing Perito said he did stop, though, was the appointment of Maureen McDonnell to a spot on Star Scientific’s corporate board.
“I thought it was one of the worst Ideas I had ever heard,” Perito said of Jonnie Williams’ suggestion that the company put the then-first lady of Virginia on their board. “I told him it’s not going to happen on my watch.”
Perito told jurors that Williams called him back after he told Maureen McDonnell she could not have a seat on the board and said she was “really pissed.”
Before Paul Perito took the stand, jurors heard testimony from Matt Conrad, who worked as Deputy Chief of Staff and Deputy Counsel in the McDonnell administration starting in June 2011.
Prosecutors reviewed Bob McDonnell’s 2012 statement of economic interest with Conrad, who said the then-governor was displeased when he saw that aids had calculated he had accepted roughly $81,000 in gifts for that year. Conrad said McDonnell asked him to pull reports from previous governors to see how that number compared.
Conrad also discussed internal deliberations that took place amongst the governor’s staff sometime in 2011 trying to determine whether or not Maureen McDonnell was required to file a statement of economic interest.
Ultimately, Conrad said, the staff decided she did not have to file a disclosure report because she did not have an official government position.
Conrad did say, however, that he asked Maureen McDonnell’s staff to track her gifts anyways to make sure none of the gifts she accepted also needed to be reported by the governor and also to make sure those giving the gifts received a thank you card.
During questioning, Conrad also said he had to have a training session with Maureen McDonnell and her staff about how to handle gifts because the first lady was known to take gifts that came to the mansion and hide them without anyone knowing about them, saying that she would squirrel away “piles of gifts.”
Testimony continues Friday afternoon. Reporter Nick Ochsner is in the courtroom for today’s testimony. Follow him on Twitter