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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- Bob McDonnell had just been elected governor of Virginia when a wealthy businessman who had donated the use of his private jet during the Republican's campaign requested a meeting at the Four Seasons Hotel in New York.

The governor-elect obliged and brought along his wife, Maureen, who during the meeting told Jonnie Williams she needed a dress for the inauguration the following month, according to a federal indictment of the McDonnells.

Williams agreed to buy her an Oscar de la Renta gown, but a Bob McDonnell aide said it would be inappropriate and nixed the idea, according to the indictment returned by a grand jury Tuesday.

Peeved, the former Washington Redskins cheerleader and future first lady fired off an email to the staffer.

"I need to talk to you about Inaugural clothing budget," the email said. "I need answers and Bob is screaming about the thousands I'm charging up in credit card debt. We are broke and have an unconscionable amount in credit card debt already and this Inaugural is killing us!! I need answers and I need help, and I need to get this done."

She ultimately told Williams, then the CEO of dietary supplement maker Star Scientific Inc., she could not accept the dress but would take a "rain check."

That scenario played out in December 2009, according to the indictment, and was allegedly the start of a four-year pattern of Virginia's first couple squeezing gifts and loans out of a benefactor who expected them to promote his company's products in return.

The indictment suggests the McDonnells cashed in that first rain check many times over: shopping sprees for designer clothes for Maureen McDonnell, a vacation stay at Williams' multimillion-dollar Smith Mountain Lake retreat, $70,000 in loans for a family real estate venture, $15,000 in catering expenses for a daughter's wedding, golf outings for the governor and family members.

The day after the Smith Mountain Lake vacation, which allegedly included use of Williams' Ferrari, Williams was in a meeting with the McDonnells and a senior state health official, pitching Star Scientific products and even suggesting that government employees could serve as a control group for research studies, according to the indictment.

Also that day, the indictment said, Maureen McDonnell persuaded Williams to buy a $6,500 Rolex watch that she presented to her husband as a gift with "71st Governor of Virginia" engraved on the back.

The government alleges there were other instances of the McDonnells using their influence to help Williams' company, including hosting an Executive Mansion reception for Star Scientific to launch it signature product with university researchers in attendance.

Twelve of the 14 counts in Tuesday's indictment are punishable by up to 20 years in prison, two by up to 30 years. Possible fines range from $250,000 to $1 million.

McDonnell has apologized and said he returned more than $120,000 in gifts and loans to Williams, but has insisted he did nothing illegal. He said Tuesday night that federal prosecutors stretched the law to make a case against him and his wife.

"I will use every available resource and advocate that I have for as long as it takes to fight and prevail against these false allegations and the unjust overreach of the federal government," McDonnell said at a news conference, where he read from a statement and took no questions.

"I repeat again emphatically that I did nothing illegal for Mr. Williams in exchange for what I believed was his personal friendship and his generosity," said McDonnell. He described the federal investigation as "indescribably agonizing" and said that "the federal government's case rests entirely on a misguided legal theory."

Maureen McDonnell joined her husband at the news conference but did not speak. Her attorney, William Burck, said in a statement that the Department of Justice "has overreached to bring these charges."

Acting U.S. Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman offered a different view.

"Today's charges represent the Justice Department's continued commitment to rooting out public corruption at all levels of government," she said in a news release. "Ensuring that elected officials uphold the public's trust is one of our most critical responsibilities."

McDonnell's lawyers filed a strongly worded motion Tuesday evening seeking instructions and recordings of any comments federal prosecutors made to the grand jury about the legal validity of the charges.

"To bring today's indictment, the federal government has concocted a never-before-used legal theory manufactured for the sole purpose of prosecuting Governor McDonnell and his wife," they wrote.

They called the governor's prosecution days after leaving office "disgraceful" and "contemptuous of the citizens of Virginia who elected him."

A bond hearing and arraignment is set for both defendants Friday in U.S. District Court in Richmond.

McDonnell left office earlier this month after four years in the governor's office. Virginia law limits governors to a single term.

The federal investigation overshadowed the final months in office for the once-rising star of the Republican Party. At one time, McDonnell had been considered a possible running mate for Mitt Romney. McDonnell delivered the 2010 Republican response to the State of the Union Address, and became chairman of the Republican Governors Association in 2011.

The 43-page indictment outlines several instances in which the McDonnells allegedly touted the legitimacy of Star Scientific's dietary supplement Anatabloc.

Last month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration informed Star Scientific that it has been unlawfully promoting Anatabloc as a drug by citing studies suggesting it can be used to treat multiple sclerosis and other diseases. The company has said it is working with the FDA to resolve that issue as well as an allegation that it marketed the products without required federal approval.

In a written statement Tuesday evening, Star Scientific attorney Abbe David Lowell said "it is a sad day when criminal charges are brought against any elected official," and the company will continue to cooperate with authorities in the McDonnell case.

Virginia Republican lawmakers were quick to express their support for McDonnell as well as their sadness and disappointment that charges were filed. House Speaker William J. Howell and other Republican House leaders issued a statement calling McDonnell their "good friend" and saying they were praying for the former governor and his family.

"We believe in the rule of law and are confident in the ability of our legal system to render the rightful judgment, whatever it may be," the statement said.

Meanwhile Democrats used the indictments to call for stricter ethics rules for lawmakers. A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced legislation this year in reaction to McDonnell's gift scandal that would place a $250 limit on gifts to lawmakers. And new Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, signed an executive order his first day in office prohibiting gifts to the governor, his family or staff of more than $100.

"This is a sad day for Virginia, but I remain optimistic that we can work together to reform our system in order to prevent episodes like this from occurring ever again," McAuliffe said in a statement.

The scandal unfolded last year around the same time as a separate politically embarrassing case involving a former Executive Mansion chef who was accused of embezzlement and, in turn, accused McDonnell's children of taking mansion food and supplies for personal use. The governor later reimbursed the state and the chef pleaded no contest to two misdemeanors.

The fallout seeped into the general election, with McDonnell playing a low-key role in support of Republican Ken Cuccinelli, who lost to McAuliffe. Asked why he hadn't been more visible, McDonnell replied, "That's a question for the candidate."

Tuesday's indictment against the McDonnells includes one count of conspiracy to commit honest-services wire fraud; three counts of honest-services wire fraud; one count of conspiracy to obtain property under color of official right; six counts of obtaining property under color of official right; and one count of making false statements to a federal credit union.

The former governor is also charged with an additional count of making a false statement to a financial institution, and Maureen McDonnell is charged with one count of obstruction of an official proceeding.

---

Associated Press writers Steve Szkotak and Alan Suderman contributed to this report. Associated Press Writer Eric Tucker contributed from Washington.

© 2014 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about our PRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.

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   MONTREUX, Switzerland (AP) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says there is no way that Syrian President Bashar Assad can be part of a transitional government that's being discussed at an international conference aimed at ending the country's brutal conflict.
   Kerry said Wednesday at the conference that Assad has lost his legitimacy to lead after an "appalling assault" on his people and cannot regain that legitimacy.
   Kerry said the meeting, which is aimed at forming a transitional government for Syria, poses a serious challenge for the world as it marks the beginning of "tough and complicated negotiations."  He urged countries present to unite around bringing an end to the suffering of the Syrian people.
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   BOSTON (AP) — Snow blowers whirred and shovels scraped across sidewalks as the Northeast tried to keep up with a winter storm that swirled up the coast, creating blizzard conditions on Cape Cod, disrupting government work in Washington and leaving behind it bitter Canadian cold that sapped fuel supplies.
   The huge storm stretched from Kentucky to New England but hit hardest along the heavily populated Interstate 95 corridor between Philadelphia and Boston. Snow began falling midmorning Tuesday in Philadelphia and had dumped as much as 13.5 inches by midnight, with New York seeing almost as much. Manalapan, N.J., had the highest snowfall reading with 16 inches.
   The storm, which dropped nearly a foot of snow in parts of Massachusetts, promised to create headaches for motorists in Boston on Wednesday morning. Commuters in Philadelphia and New York had packed early trains or spent hours inching along roads in swirling darkness to get home the night before.
   The New Yorkers and Bostonians who normally swarm Cape Cod in fishing hats or bikinis in July and August wouldn't recognize it this week. A blizzard warning through Wednesday afternoon kept business brisk at Aubuchon Hardware in Sandwich, where salt and snow shovels were popular.
   "The flow of customers is pretty steady, but everyone waits until the worst of the storm to start worrying," manager Jeff Butland said.
   Boston ordered schools closed Wednesday, following the lead the day before of many districts in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut, Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky. Federal workers in Washington also got a snow day Tuesday.
   Nearly 3,000 commercial flights were canceled Tuesday into and out of some of the nation's busiest airports, including in Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston, where Logan Airport advised passengers to expect extremely limited domestic service at least through Wednesday morning.
   At New York's LaGuardia Airport, congested even on a good day, a television monitor displayed a litany of canceled flights. Crowds of people who had been hoping to fly out instead gathered around ticket counters trying to make alternate arrangements.
   "We don't expect to get out here till 6 p.m. maybe, tomorrow," Paula Black said Tuesday after her flight to Chicago was canceled.
   Amtrak told passengers on its busiest line, the Northeast Corridor between Washington and Boston, to expect fewer trains. Lines serving Harrisburg, Pa., and Albany, N.Y., also were slowed.
   The storm put a damper on New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's inauguration, forcing the cancellation of a Tuesday evening gala on Ellis Island. In Massachusetts, Gov. Deval Patrick postponed his annual State of the State address, saying he was worried about guests trying to get to the Statehouse.
   On I-95, one of the nation's busiest highways, traffic was bumper to bumper Tuesday evening north of New York City, where some people simply gave up and tried to navigate side streets, creating another traffic jam in suburban New Rochelle.
   "I just want to get to the Bronx," Peter Neuwens said. "It's a big place. Why can't I get there?"
   The storm was a conventional one that developed off the coast and moved its way up the Eastern Seaboard, pulling in cold air from the Arctic. Unlike the epic freeze of two weeks ago, it was not caused by a kink in the polar vortex, the winds that circulate around the North Pole.
   Nonetheless, overnight temperatures in the single digits were expected in Philadelphia and New York, with wind chills dipping into the negative teens.
   The newest wave of cold air helped to deplete fuel supplies and send prices for propane and natural gas to record highs. Higher natural gas prices also are leading to sharply higher wholesale electricity prices as power utilities snap up gas at almost any price to run power plants to meet higher-than-normal winter demand.
   Propane users will get pinched the most. Those who find themselves suddenly needing to fill their tanks could be paying $100 to $200 more per fill-up than a month ago. Homeowners who use natural gas and electricity will see higher heating bills because they'll use more fuel. But prices won't rise dramatically because utilities buy only a small portion of the fuel at the elevated prices.
   The storm was blamed for at least one death in Maryland, after a car fishtailed into the path of a tractor-trailer on a snow-covered road about 50 miles northwest of Baltimore and the car's driver was ejected. Police said the storm might have claimed more lives: A preliminary investigation showed wet conditions played a role in a two-vehicle crash that killed two people in Prince George's County, Md.
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