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The Journal Gazette

Monday, April 29, 2013 11:34 pm

Sources: FBI questions link between Va. gov, donor

By BOB LEWISAP Political Writer

Two people close to a federal investigation of a nutritional supplements manufacturer say the FBI is examining the relationship the company and its chief executive have with Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife.

The people asked not to be identified because their roles in the case preclude them from speaking publicly. They said Monday that the FBI began questioning people close to the McDonnells as an outgrowth of a securities probe of Virginia-based Star Scientific Inc.

They said questions have focused on gifts the McDonnells have received from company CEO Jonnie Williams. Court documents show Williams paid $15,000 toward catering for the governor's daughter's wedding in June 2011.

A spokesman for McDonnell did not immediately return messages seeking comment. An FBI spokeswoman refused to comment Monday night.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

A former chef at the Virginia governor's mansion who is facing felony embezzlement charges filed court papers Monday saying he gave investigators evidence alleging lavish gift-taking and other wrongdoing involving Gov. Bob McDonnell more than a year ago.

The 13-page filing contends that fired Executive Mansion chef Todd Schneider was a whistle-blower who provided authorities with evidence in 2012 alleging that McDonnell and some relatives received gifts from the top executive of a troubled nutritional supplement maker, Star Scientific. It also alleges that he was told to take state-purchased food as payment for personal services and that others took food and supplies from the governor's mansion.

An aide to the governor said McDonnell's office had no immediate comment.

Schneider is facing four counts of taking state property worth $200 or more in the last half of 2011 and early 2012. Monday's filings came as part of a motion seeking to dismiss charges against Schneider at a hearing in the case scheduled for Thursday.

Schneider had headed the Virginia Executive Mansion kitchen operations from 2010, when McDonnell moved in, until last year, when he was dismissed after a state police inquiry began into alleged improprieties in the mansion's kitchen.

The court papers also accused Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli of prosecuting Schneider in an attempt to protect his political interests in his current campaign for governor - "a campaign for which he needs substantial political donations and the support of the current Governor of Virginia." Both Cuccinelli and McDonnell are Republicans.

The documents claim Cuccinelli ignored the evidence because of conflicts of interest that the attorney general and McDonnell shared. The filings also state Schneider provided the evidence to the attorney general's office, the Virginia State Police and the FBI in February 2012.

Cuccinelli should have recused his office from the case a year ago when the evidence came to light and not as he did last week, the court documents stated.

Political and official aides to Cuccinelli dismissed the motion by Schneider's attorney, Steven D. Benjamin of Richmond, as an effort to sensationalize a criminal case.

Cuccinelli's campaign said in a release: "Todd Schneider is facing multiple indictments for stealing. Ultimately he will face a jury of his peers."

Brian Gottstein, spokesman for the attorney general's office, said the case "will be tried in court and not in the media."

Schneider's filing contends he gave the evidence to Cuccinelli's office before the Republican candidate for governor revealed in required financial filings that he had close ties to a Star Scientific executive, Jonnie Williams, and had owned stock in Star Scientific.

Benjamin said he noted that Cuccinelli sold 1,500 shares of Star Scientific stock at near-record prices for the stock last summer at a profit of $7,000

Schneider also alleges in the filings he told investigators that mansion staff and other state employees had witnessed Schneider being instructed to take state-purchased food as payment for personal services, and that they saw others "openly taking cases of food and other supplies from the Governor's Mansion."

The filings come amid an ongoing investigation into operations of the kitchen at the 200-year-old official home of Virginia's governors, the longest-serving gubernatorial residence in the nation.

Among the documents the motion says Schneider provided to the state police were a contract McDonnell signed with Schneider's private catering company for a daughter's 2011 mansion wedding reception and a check from Williams used to pay for the catering.

Cucinelli's top campaign adviser, Christopher J. LaCivita, called the court filing "the defense counsel's Gloria Allred moment," referring to the famous celebrity lawyer.

The Virginia State Police, in a news statement, noted its policy of neither confirming nor denying investigations of elected officials. The FBI had no immediate comment.

A hearing was scheduled for Thursday on Cuccinelli's recent motion to recuse his office from prosecuting Schneider and the ongoing state police investigation into operations at the executive mansion kitchen.