RICHMOND, Va. (Reuters) - Former Virginia first lady Maureen McDonnell was sentenced on Friday to 12 months and one day in prison for her federal corruption conviction for taking bribes from a businessman.
McDonnell, 60, was also sentenced by U.S. District Judge James Spencer to two years of probation following release from prison.
McDonnell, who lawyers for her estranged husband, former Republican Governor Robert McDonnell, blamed for triggering the corruption scandal, tearfully apologized during the three-hour sentencing hearing in a crowded courtroom.
“I was the one who let the serpent into the mansion, and the venom from the serpent poisoned my marriage, my family and the Commonwealth I love,” said McDonnell, who never testified during the five-week trial that brought down her and her husband.
“I would do anything to turn back the clock and live those two years with the knowledge I have now.”
McDonnell and her husband were convicted in September for accepting $177,000 in sweetheart loans and lavish gifts from Star Scientific Inc Chief Executive Jonnie Williams in exchange for promoting his company’s main product, the anti-inflammatory Anatabloc.
The trial laid bare rifts in the couple’s marriage and tarnished Virginia’s reputation for clean government. Witnesses described the former first lady, the mother of five, as unstable and driven by greed.
Spencer said during the hearing that the defense strategy of blaming the former first lady was “let’s throw mama off the train.”
Although the McDonnells are living apart, the former governor gave his wife a highly visible kiss on the cheek when she entered the courtroom.
The gifts from Williams included a $6,500 Rolex watch, wedding and engagement presents and golf outings and equipment.
He provided a $50,000 loan and a $15,000 “gift” to cover wedding expenses for McDonnell’s daughter. He also gave a $70,000 loan to a corporation that the governor and his sister used to manage beach properties.
Maureen McDonnell was convicted of eight counts of corruption. Robert McDonnell, who left office in January 2014, was convicted on 11 counts and sentenced to two years in prison last month.
Federal prosecutors had sought an 18-month sentence for the former first lady. Defense lawyers had argued for a community service sentence, saying she had been humiliated enough.
The couple remain free pending appeals. McDonnell is the first Virginia governor to be convicted of a felony, and state lawmakers have advanced ethics measures prompted by the case.
Reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington; Editing by Peter Cooney and Lisa Lambert