Friday, in a Richmond Court House, U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer sentenced former Virginia First Lady, Maureen McDonnell, to 12 months plus one day in prison, on nine federal corruption charges. The judge sentenced her to an additional two years of supervised probation. He also allowed her to stay out of jail pending appeal. In contrast to the judge’s light sentence, federal sentencing guidelines called for 63 to 78 months in prison. Prosecutors had asked for an 18-month sentence.
Judge Spencer was also very lenient with Maureen’s husband, former Virginia Governor, Bob McDonnell, who was convicted on 11 counts of corruption charges. In January, Spencer sentenced Bob McDonnell to two years in prison, far less than the 10-12 year sentence recommended by the federal probation office, or the 6 1/2 years federal prosecutors asked for.
Judge Spencer was appointed to the federal bench in 1986, by Republican President Ronald Reagan. Although the judge directed some harsh words to the McDonnells during the hearings, his sentences amounted to a proverbial slap on the wrist.
The McDonnell sentences contrast sharply to the 9 1/2 year sentence Phillip Hamilton (R), an ex-Virginia delegate, was given by George W. Bush appointee, Henry Hudson in 2011. Hamilton was convicted of bribery and extortion. His 9 1/2 year sentence was still less than the 12 1/2 years prosecutors had recommended, but it was much harsher than the sentences meted out by Judge Spencer to the McDonnells.
Maureen McDonnell seemed to continue shirking responsibility for her actions, during the sentencing hearing. Although she did briefly mention that she blamed nobody but herself, she quickly pivoted to pointing her finger at businessman Johnnie Williams. Maureen McDonnell referred to Williams as a snake, who ”has poisoned my marriage, has poisoned my family and has poisoned the commonwealth that I love.”
The McDonnells took over 70,00 dollars worth of bribes. They violated the public trust at the taxpayer’s expense. Yet, in their sentencing hearings, a Reagan-appointed federal judge seemed moved by the need to extend compassion to the corrupt Governor and his equally lawless wife. Each received sentences well below the federal guidelines for their crimes.
The public should be quick to recognize that when rich and powerful Republicans go on trial before a Republican appointed Judge, the court suddenly is moved to show unusual mercy for convicted criminals. By giving the McDonnells each a mild slap on the wrist, instead of lengthy prison terms, Judge Spencer has opened the door for more government corruption in the years ahead. Sadly, the low odds of serving serious time for public corruption might make taking a few bribes, here and there, worth the risk for the next wave of unscrupulous GOP politicians.