RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — When former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife pleaded not guilty to federal corruption charges, the judges overseeing the case had a message for the lawyers: no talking out of turn.
"This case is going to be tried in the courtroom; it is not going to be tried in the media," said U.S. Magistrate Judge David Novak, who ordered the McDonnells released on their own recognizance Friday. "The gamesmanship with the media ends now."
U.S. District Court Judge James R. Spencer, who is set to oversee the jury trial scheduled to begin July 28, reminded lawyers that rule breakers could be punished. "This will not be a trial by press conference or press release," Spencer said.
The warnings underscored the highly public nature of the federal investigation into the McDonnells. Almost all of the relevant details of the government's case against McDonnell had long been made public through months of news stories based on anonymous sources.
In court filings, the defense lawyers suggest possible political motivation for the leaks, noting that there was a "steady stream of negative" information made public during last year's gubernatorial contest to succeed McDonnell.
The McDonnells were indicted on 14 counts Tuesday after a lengthy federal investigation of the former first couple's relationship with a former CEO of a dietary supplement maker. They deny the charges.
"It's not guilty, your honor," McDonnell said when asked for his plea Friday. Bob and Maureen McDonnell often held hands as they made their way through the courthouse, where they were followed by family, supporters and the news media. Supporters include prominent Republican lawmakers, including Virginia House Speaker William J. Howell and House Majority Leader Kirk Cox.
Federal prosecutors allege the McDonnells accepted more than $165,000 worth of loans and gifts from Jonnie Williams, the former head of Star Scientific Inc. Prosecutors say that in return, the McDonnells improperly helped Williams promote his company's products.
The investigation crippled the chances of attaining higher office for McDonnell, once a rising star in the Republican Party who had even been considered a possible running mate for Mitt Romney in 2012. He has apologized for what he describes as bad judgment and has said he repaid about $120,000 in gifts and loans.
The indictment handed down Tuesday accuses the couple of accepting gifts such as shopping sprees for designer clothes and accessories, a Rolex watch, $15,000 in catering expenses for a daughter's wedding, golf outings and a lake-house vacation stay that included use of Williams' Ferrari. McDonnell also received $120,000 in loans for family real estate ventures, according to the indictment.
Much of the government's case is centered on Maureen McDonnell, who prosecutors allege repeatedly requested and received luxury items from Williams. At the arraignment, Maureen McDonnell said she was currently taking prescription medication for "concentration and anxiety."
Prosecutors said the couple in turn promoted Star Scientific's products and gave special treatment to Williams, including arranging for him to meet a state health official. The couple also opened up the Executive Mansion for a launch party for one of the company's signature products, prosecutors said.
The McDonnells and their lawyers say the couple did nothing for Star Scientific that they wouldn't do for any other Virginia company. The former governor's lawyers say in court papers that the gifts weren't bribes because McDonnell never gave Williams anything that wasn't a routine courtesy doled out by every politician, from the president on down.
In court records, the defense has accused prosecutors of using "deceitful practices" to build its case while ignoring evidence that could potentially exonerate the McDonnells. The charges came 10 days after McDonnell, limited by the Virginia Constitution to a single four-year term, left office.
If convicted, the McDonnells could face a long stretch in prison. Twelve of the charges are punishable by up to 20 years in prison, two by up to 30 years. Potential fines range from $250,000 to $1 million.
The trial is expected to last five or six weeks.