WASHINGTON – A prominent political donor and his dietary supplement company have been cooperating for several months with federal prosecutors in a public-corruption investigation into Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell, according to three people familiar with the inquiry.
Jonnie Williams Sr., chief executive of Star Scientific, has turned over personal financial records and sat for interviews in which he offered firsthand accounts of luxury gifts and more than $120,000 given to McDonnell and his family members since 2011, the people said.
Star has given prosecutors access to corporate records and offered information from other company officials. The three spoke on the condition of anonymity because the case is in a sensitive stage.
The cooperation is an ominous sign for McDonnell, suggesting that federal prosecutors are focused on trying to build a criminal case against him.
McDonnell has not been charged, and prosecutors ultimately must determine whether they have the evidence to proceed against him.
Williams is a critical witness. He can offer investigators insight into the key issue for such a case: whether the governor and first lady agreed to take official actions that could help Williams' company in exchange for gifts.
McDonnell, a Republican, has repeatedly said he has broken no laws, insisting that he did nothing to help Williams' company that he would not have done for any other state-based enterprise. He has said he was not required by state law to disclose gifts given to his family members or a corporate loan that he said Williams provided. He has said he properly disclosed $50,000 given by Williams as a loan to his wife.
McDonnell recently apologized for breaching the public's trust and said he had repaid money he received from Williams, along with interest. Last week, he said he was working to return all of Williams' gifts to his family.
But the federal investigation, like that by a state prosecutor into whether the governor followed Virginia's gift disclosure laws, is continuing. Star Scientific has also told investors that it faces a securities probe.
Rich Galen, a spokesman for McDonnell, declined to comment, as did a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office and an attorney for Williams.
In addition to providing financial assistance, Williams also gave gifts to McDonnell's family. He took Maureen McDonnell on a $15,000 shopping trip in New York, he gave $15,000 for catering at the wedding of McDonnell's daughter and he gave a $6,500 Rolex watch intended for the governor. He also gave a $10,000 wedding shower gift to another McDonnell daughter.
At the same time, McDonnell helped arrange for Williams to meet with the state's secretary of health to pitch his company's new product, a dietary supplement called Anatabloc.
McDonnell's wife flew to Florida to attend a seminar for doctors and investors, where she told the group that she supported Anatabloc and believed that it could be used to lower health-care costs in Virginia. The governor attended a luncheon hosted by his wife at the governor's mansion to mark Anatabloc's formal launch.