Investigation into Cuccinelli gifts finds nothing illegal

Posted at 8:33 AM, Jul 18, 2013
and last updated 2013-07-18 19:04:08-04

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) - An investigation into the way Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli disclosed gifts given to him by political donor Jonnie Williams Sr. found nothing illegal, Richmond Commonwealth's Attorney Michael Herring announced in a report released Thursday morning. Williams is the CEO of Henrico-based Star Star Scientific. Cuccinelli is the Republican candidate for governor of Virginia.

"As of this date, July 18, 2013, our investigation finds no evidence that the Attorney General, in violation of the Act or any other law, received any payments, loans, or negotiable tender of any type from any reportable person or entity, including Johnny Williams and Star Scientific," Herring wrote at the conclusion of his report. "Our investigation finds no evidence that the Attorney General in any way promoted, supported or assisted Star Scientific while he had a financial interest in the company."

In a statement released after Herring's report went public, the Attorney General thanked Herring for his impartial review.

"This review vindicates what I have said all along. There was no legal requirement to refer my own filings to a commonwealth's attorney to review, but I did it because I wanted to be completely transparent with the public," Cuccinelli's statement read.

[GOLDMAN: Richmond Democrat saves GOP Cuccinelli’s gubernatorial bid]

Despite finding no illegal action, Herring's report did raise a red flag. He writes that Cuccinelli only amended his disclosure forms after learning of state and federal investigations into Williams' dealings with Gov. McDonnell.

"One cannot help but question whether repeated omissions of gifts from Williams are coincidence or a pattern reflecting intent to conceal," Herring wrote. "The disclosure of several other gifts and benefits from Williams in his original statements suggests that the Attorney General was not attempting to conceal the relationship."

Herring said his investigation focused on the content of the Attorney General's original and amended Statements of Economic Interest.

"We did not broadly investigate the Attorney General or his Office," Herring wrote. "This report is in no way intended to offer an explanation for the behavior of the Attorney General or any member of his staff."

In April, Herring's office was appointed look into whether Cuccinelli knowingly broke Virginia's Conflict of Interest Act which states officials must "disclose financial relationships with, and interests in, entities that may appear to influence their judgment or the performance of their duties," Herring wrote. He said officials disclose that information in yearly statements.

The report indicated that in April, Cuccinelli changed his Statements of Economic Interest from 2009-2012 to add gifts given to him and his family by Williams. Currently, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell is engulfed in controversy surrounding hundreds of thousands of gifts he and his family received from Williams.

Cuccinelli amended his statements to include $628 in transportation costs for a 2009 trip to New York City and $1500 for a Thanksgiving 2010 retreat at Williams' property on Smith Mountain Lake.

"Although the Attorney General advised investigators that he asked Williams to host his family for the Thanksgiving holiday, we discovered no evidence that Williams received any benefit or assistance in exchange for hosting the Cuccinellis," Herring wrote. "There is no evidence that Williams intended to curry favor or influence the Attorney General in the performance of his duties."

Cuccinelli also changed his 2011 statement to disclose that he owned more than $10,000 in Star Scientific stock.

"Between June 29, 2012 and July 2, 2012 the Attorney General sold 1500 shares for $7033.93, enjoying a short-term profit. The Federal investigation of Williams and Star Scientific became public knowledge in March 2013. The Attorney General sold the balance of his 7160 shares on April 12, 2013 for $10,187.35, suffering an aggregate loss," Herring wrote. "Absent any evidence to contradict the Attorney General’s explanation that he became aware of the Williams/McDonnell investigations between August and September 2012, there is no basis to conclude he benefited from confidential investigation information when he sold his stock in the summer of 2012."

In amendments to his 2012 statement, Cuccinelli disclosed a week-long stay at Williams’ Smith Mountain Lake property which he valued at $3000, according to the report.

"The Attorney General informed investigators that he asked Williams for use of his vacation property," Herring wrote.

The Democratic Party of Virginia released a statement regarding the report.

"Ken Cuccinelli avoided prosecution for disguising his conflict of interest with Star Scientific and Jonnie Williams because of Virginia's extraordinarily weak ethics laws. Given his pattern of 'forgetting' to disclose stocks and gifts from financial patrons whose lawsuits over unpaid taxes are sitting in his office, it's no wonder that Cuccinelli won't accept Terry McAuliffe's proposal to ban gifts and give our ethics laws real teeth," said Brian Coy, Communications Director for the D.P.V.A.

At a news conference Tuesday, Herring said his office did not receive access to Jonnie Williams during the investigation. Regardless, he said he was happy with the overall access he received.

CBS 6 political reporter Joe St. George asked Herring "Do Virginia laws allow politicians to forget as much as they want with no consequence?"

"I think the law assumes that politicians, we are humans and that we are capable of forgetting," Herring said.

Herring did take a swipe at Virginia laws saying they need to be "beefier" and allow for some misdemeanor offense to become felonies.

Herring now will focus on a state investigation into Governor Bob McDonnell's financial past. Herring says that investigation is expected to take months to complete and is far more complex.