HOLMBERG: Three Stooges-style food fight making a mess of Virginia

Posted at 12:00 AM, Apr 25, 2013

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) -- There’s probably never been a bigger food fight in Virginia, certainly not one that began in the kitchen of the Governor’s Mansion and has made such a mess it’s national news.

“This is the most important legal case in the state today because it is purely a political case,” said longtime democratic strategist and analyst Paul Goldman. “This is a case that comes from somebody, somewhere, trying to embarrass the governor and the first lady.”

On Wednesday, attorney general Ken Cuccinelli announced he wants to recuse himself from the prosecution of the governor’s former chef, who faces felony embezzlement charges for allegedly taking several hundred dollars’ worth of food from the mansion for his catering business.

This announcement came just two days after the chef’s attorney, Steve Benjamin, tossed his own pies by filing a motion for discovery to reveal any funny business with the operations of the mansion, things the governor’s family may have helped themselves to – food, drinks, pots and pans - similar to the minor thefts the chef is charged with. This motion for discovery is far-reaching, and is seemingly a serious threat because it appears to be fueled by insider information – presumably, from the former chef.

Benjamin denies any political motivations to the legal wrangling.

Moments after Cuccinelli tried to duck the food fight, Benjamin lobbed another pie, an objection filed in court saying the attorney general – who is also the Republican candidate for governor - has no legal right or reason to try to keep out of food fight, an analysis of the law that Paul Goldman says is accurate. Just because it is politically messy is not reason enough.

What’s unclear is how this mess started, and who started it.

Whoever it is, Goldman said, is celebrating, because it’s working to perfection. Not only has a popular Republican governor been smeared, it could easily spread to Cuccinelli and beyond.

It began more than a year ago with an announcement that the feds and state police were investigating improprieties in the governor’s kitchen involving the chef, Todd Schneider. That an investigation was revealed before arrests or indictments is extremely unusual.

Goldman says, even if it was the governor’s people who asked for an investigation, they had plenty of time to make it go away quietly to avoid blowback on them.

A whole year later, not quite four weeks ago, the chef was hit with indictments he took property worth more than $200 – felony!

Then came leaked documents showing the chef catered a $15,000 wedding for the governor’s daughter paid for by a big-time donor and friend of the governor – a gift the governor did not declare because, he said, it was a gift for his daughter.

That big-time donor, Jonnie Williams Sr. of Star Scientific, also made donations to Cuccinelli, who owned Star Scientific Stock.

And of course, Star Scientific is being investigated by the feds for exaggerating the promise of its Anatabloc skin care product, a version of which was launched at the Governor’s mansion and promoted by the first lady.

Goldman said this is a case worthy of close observation. He said the idea this is all the work of a chef angry at being prosecuted just doesn’t add up.

But my guess is, if you’re looking for the fingerprints of the political architect or architects of this messy food fight, you may be disappointed.

That’s my take, please scroll down to leave a comment.