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RICHMOND Va. (Reuters) - Former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell and his wife Maureen had a loving relationship and there was no trouble between them, a prosecution witness in the couple's federal corruption trial testified on Thursday.
The testimony by Sarah Scarbrough, former director of the governor's mansion, countered defense arguments that the McDonnells' marriage was so frayed that they could not have conspired to take $165,000 in loans and gifts from a Virginia businessman.
Scarbrough, a friend of one of the McDonnell's daughters, described the couple's relationship as "loving" and said they frequently kissed and hugged in public.
The Republican governor "worshiped the ground she walked on," Scarbrough said in the ninth day of trial in U.S. District Court.
The McDonnells face 14 counts of corruption and bribery for allegedly accepting the gifts and loans from businessman Jonnie Williams Sr. in exchange for supporting his former company, a dietary supplement maker now known as Rock Creek Pharmaceuticals Inc.
Scarbrough testified that Maureen McDonnell was angry when she learned that Scarbrough was keeping a record of gifts to the first lady. Scarbrough said the governor's wife told her she was not a public official and did not have to report gifts.
Scarbrough's testimony about the couple's close relationship is in line with that of Mary Shea Sutherland, the first lady's former chief of staff, this week.
The relationship is critical to the corruption case, because defense attorneys have said their marriage was crumbling and that they could not have been involved in a conspiracy because they never talked to each other.
In other testimony Thursday, a former state official said he was aware of a proposal by Williams to test his product on state employees.
But Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Resources Dr. William Hazel said he never considered the idea.
"I would not expose our people to something like that," Hazel said.
Hazel's testimony helped reinforce the government’s assertion that as governor McDonnell played an active role in helping Williams, who prosecutors say helped keep the governor’s beach properties afloat with loans to meet mortgage payments.
Attorneys for the couple have argued that accepting the gifts was unseemly but not illegal.
If convicted, the McDonnells could face more than 20 years in prison and a large fine. McDonnell's four-year term as governor ended in January.
Writing by Ian Simpson; editing by Bill Trott, Frances Kerry, Sharon Bernstein and Bernard Orr