Tuesday, August 5, 2014
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A former Virginia health official testified Tuesday that she met with the wealthy nutritional supplements executive who lavished former Gov. Bob McDonnell with in gifts and loans, but nothing came of the meeting.
Molly Huffstetler's meeting with McDonnell's wife, Maureen, and former Star Scientific Inc. CEO Jonnie Williams at the governor's mansion in August 2011 is one of the benefits that prosecutors claim Williams received in exchange for more than $165,000 he spent on the McDonnell family. The McDonnells are charged in a 14-count indictment and could face decades in prison if convicted.
Huffstetler was a senior health adviser who reported directly to Dr. Bill Hazel, the state health secretary. She testified that McDonnell asked that someone from Hazel's office meet with the first lady and Williams to discuss his company's signature product, the anti-inflammatory Anatabloc. Huffstetler said she went because Hazel's two top deputies were busy, adding that she and her colleagues referred to Williams as "tic-tac man" because he left samples of tiny Anatabloc pills at meetings.
She said Williams did almost all of the talking, but never specifically asked for anything. Her notes from the meeting indicated that Williams said a state tobacco commission was going to finance a study of Anatabloc.
The same day, she sent Williams an email thanking him for his time and pledging "to continue to work alongside the first Lady as we identify how best to move forward."
Bob McDonnell's attorney, Henry Asbill, asked Huffstetler if she would describe that message as "basically a blow-off email."
"That's probably fair," said Huffstetler, who said she never intended to follow up — and that neither she nor anyone in her office ever did.
She testified it was not unusual for McDonnell to request such meetings. She said she felt no pressure to do anything more for Williams.
The jury also heard from Dr. John Clore, vice president of clinical research at the Medical College of Virginia, about his dealings with Williams, who testified under immunity for the prosecution.
Clore said that in 2011, he received a phone call from Johns Hopkins medical researcher Dr. Paul Ladenson about the potential health benefits of anatabine, the tobacco-derived compound that is the main ingredient in Anatabloc. Clore sent several of his colleagues an email about the call, writing that Williams was a "very good friend" of the governor and that McDonnell wanted to sponsor clinical trials of Anatabloc.
He acknowledged under questioning by the defense that the statements about McDonnell's support were based solely on what Ladenson told him.
Clore later flew with a University of Virginia medical researcher and others on Williams' private jet to a meeting in Maryland to discuss Anatabloc, where he was handed a form to apply for funds that would allow him to seek a grant from the tobacco commission for clinical trials. A little more than a week later, at a product launch event at the governor's mansion, Williams handed him a $25,000 check made out to MCV to begin the process.
"Never happened before in my life," Clore said when asked how unusual it was to receive planning grants that way. It was one of eight $25,000 checks Williams handed out to researchers at that event, Williams testified previously.
Clore said he was interested in researching Anatabloc because he thought it had potential, but it never went anywhere because the Star subsidiary in charge — Rock Creek Pharmaceuticals — quit communicating.
According to Clore, Bob McDonnell spoke at the product launch event, which prosecutors have also listed as an "official act" the former governor and his wife performed for Williams. Clore said his impression was that it was an official government event.