Cuccinelli recuses office from governor's mansion case

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli cited a conflict of interest Wednesday as he recused his office and hired a private legal team to represent Gov. Bob McDonnell in matters arising from the politically charged criminal case pending against the former chef at Virginia's Executive Mansion.

Democratic former Virginia Attorney General Anthony F. Troy will lead four attorneys from the Richmond firm of Eckert Seamans providing counsel to McDonnell in his official capacity and others in his office as an embezzlement case proceeds against Todd Schneider and other probes of the mansion's kitchen operations continue.

"Due to the practical conflict previously noted by this office in the case of Commonwealth v. Todd Schneider, ... you and your office are appointed to serve as special counsel to represent (McDonnell) ... for matters related to, or arising from, this case and any other related matters," Assistant Attorney General Ellen Porter wrote in a letter to Troy dated Wednesday.

The conflict is the exposure both Cuccinelli and McDonnell have had to nutritional supplements maker Star Scientific Inc., the subject of a federal securities probe and three shareholders' lawsuits, and its chief executive, Jonnie Williams. Williams gave gifts to both McDonnell and Cuccinelli, some of which they disclosed belatedly or not until after journalists had first reported them.

Williams' company gave McDonnell's campaign more than $100,000 and, in 2011, wrote the governor's daughter, Cailin, a $15,000 check to cover expenses for her Executive Mansion wedding reception, including the bill from Schneider's private catering business. McDonnell never reported the gift on his required statement of economic interests for that year because state law requires elected officials disclose only gifts to themselves, not family members.

Cuccinelli, meanwhile, has accepted more than $18,000 in gifts from Williams since 2009, including more than $6,000 worth of food supplements, and a $3,500 family summer vacation and $1,500 Thanksgiving retreat and dinner at Williams' luxury lodge on Smith Mountain Lake. Cuccinelli amended disclosure statements dating from 2009 last month to add the lake vacations and other gifts that he said had slipped his mind earlier.

Neither Cuccinelli nor McDonnell is charged with wrongdoing, but the FBI is scrutinizing the relationship between McDonnell and Williams. The FBI's interest is related to the securities probe of Star Scientific.