RICHMOND, Va. (AP/WJLA) - The woman who served as chief of staff to Virginia's former first lady said Wednesday that she never saw any hint of a romantic relationship between her boss and a wealthy businessman.
Mary-Shea Sutherland testified in the public corruption trial of former Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, that the couple's marriage seemed solid. She said Maureen McDonnell even let her read a "lovely" poem her husband had written to her for a special occasion in 2011.
Prosecutors asked Sutherland about the McDonnells' relationship to counter a defense assertion that the union was on the rocks, and that Maureen McDonnell developed a crush on former Star Scientific Inc. CEO Jonnie Williams. That claim in last week's opening statements suggests a defense that the McDonnells could not have conspired in a gifts-for-favors scheme because they were not communicating.
Williams, testifying under immunity for the government, also said this week that his relationship with Maureen McDonnell was not romantic. Sutherland also testified Wednesday that she saw no hint of a romantic relationship or crush between the two.
The McDonnells are charged in a 14-count indictment with accepting more than $165,000 in gifts and secret loans from former Williams in exchange for promoting his dietary supplements company's products, primarily the anti-inflammatory Anatabloc. They could face decades in prison if convicted.
In one glaring example, Sutherland testified that the McDonnells agreed to use the governor's mansion in August 2011 to help Star Scientific with its launch of Anatabloc. Maureen McDonnell was insistent that the governor attend the luncheon, and was not happy when the governor's scheduler initially said he couldn't make it because of a conflict.
"The FL (first lady) isn't going to be happy about it," Sutherland wrote in an email shown to jurors when she was told initially that the governor couldn't be there. Eventually, the governor's staff reworked his schedule to he could attend the latter part of the luncheon.
Sutherland portrayed working for Maureen McDonnell as a hellish experience, saying she was the target of frequent angry outbursts. At least twice, Sutherland said, the governor's security officers overheard the yelling and checked on Sutherland to see if she was all right, she said.
Sutherland also admitted referring to the former first lady as a "nut bag."
Mary Shea Sutherland admits on the stand to referring to Maureen McDonnell as a "nut bag".Jeff Goldberg (@jgoldbergABC7) August 6, 2014
She recalled one "particularly ugly day at the mansion" when Maureen McDonnell's ire was directed at another staffer, leaving Sutherland so upset she went to see the governor's chief of staff about it. She ran into Bob McDonnell himself, and he could see she was upset and invited her into his office to talk.
Sutherland said the governor "was very kind" and asked her to understand that his wife had a tough time trying to get used to her new role and that her father had recently died.
"I pushed back a little," Sutherland said. She told McDonnell that she, too, had recently lost both parents "and I never treated anyone like that."
Sutherland said her boss also told her that she and the governor "were buried in debt," bolstering the government's claim that the McDonnells were financially desperate.
In June 2011, Sutherland even gave Maureen McDonnell a $6,000 personal loan, which the first lady paid back a few months later.
Sutherland also said she used her credit card to buy inaugural attire for Maureen McDonnell, whose own card "was maxed out."
That was only after aides to the governor nixed the idea of allowing Williams to buy an inaugural dress, which Sutherland and other witnesses have said angered Maureen McDonnell. The first lady-to-be told Williams she would take "a rain check," witnesses have said, and she cashed it in with a Manhattan shopping spree in 2011 financed by Williams. The haul from that excursion to high-end stores was about $20,000 in dresses and accessories from Bergdorf Goodman, Louis Vuitton and Oscar de la Renta.
Sutherland was along on that trip, and Williams bought her a dress too. The never-worn dress was introduced into evidence with the $1,600-plus price tag still attached.
According to Sutherland, she initially resisted Williams' offer but he wore her down.
"He said, 'I'm a father of two daughters and when I buy for one I like to buy for the other,'" Sutherland said.
It was during that shopping spree that Sutherland said she first heard Williams broach the idea that a state university could study Anatabloc, which would give the product credibility. She said Williams often discussed the idea in front of Maureen McDonnell, and she agreed it was a good idea.
"It was a Virginia product and it should be studied in Virginia," Sutherland said, summarizing the first lady's viewpoint.
Sutherland said she was also a fan of Anatabloc, took the pills herself, and even bought stock in the company.
"It made my back much better," she said.
Also Wednesday, an FBI forensic computer analyst completed his appearance on the stand.
Tim Huff had just begun testifying on Tuesday when an alternate juror became ill, prompting U.S. District Judge James Spencer to adjourn court a few minutes early.
Prosecutors presented evidence Tuesday that McDonnell concealed one $50,000 loan from Williams by listing the creditor as "medical services" on a state-required annual financial statement.