Ex-executive mansion chef pleads no contest; avoids jail time

Posted at 10:00 AM, Sep 18, 2013
and last updated 2013-09-18 19:32:52-04

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) - Former Virginia executive mansion chef Todd Schneider pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor counts of embezzlement. Under an agreement announced today in Richmond Circuit Court, Schneider will avoid jail time and pay $2,300 in restitution to the state.

Richmond Judge Margaret Spencer suspended Schneider's two six-month sentences.

Schneider, 52, faced four felony counts of embezzlement after he was accused of taking food and other goods from the Virginia Executive Mansion. In July, Judge Spencer denied a motion to dismiss charges against Schneider.

"Now its time for me to move on love life, love myself and make great food for people," Scneider told reporters after his hearing.

"It is over - this case is over," Schneider's attorney Stephen Benjamin said.

As Schneider exits the Virginia political spotlight, he does so only after radically impacting the state political scene.

Court records indicate Schneider alerted authorities to Governor Bob McDonnell's relationship with Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams, a relationship that is still under a state and federal investigation.

CBS 6 Legal Analyst Todd Stone says now that Schneider is finished with his own legal troubles, he can be a more cooperating witness in the federal investigation in McDonnell if called upon by investigators.

"He's more available to be a witness if the governor were to be indicted at this point," Stone told political reporter Joe St. George.

The Governors office reacted to chef case with the following statement from spokesman Tucker Martin.

"The court has accepted Mr. Schneider’s pleas and his agreement with the Commonwealth and found him guilty of two counts of embezzlement. Those are serious crimes. It is unfortunate these actions occurred and we are pleased that justice has been served.”

The deal does not however takeaway the $200,000+ dollar legal bill taxpayers are paying for in relation to defending the Governor and his staff from accusations made by Schneider.

Those private lawyers were appointed after Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli recused himself from the case over a conflict of interest with potential witnesses Schneider's legal team might have called.

In a statement late Wednesday, the Attorney General's office indicated the private legal team will remain in place.

Statement from Brian Gottstein, director of communication:

"The fact that there is a plea agreement in this case vindicates this office's decision to pursue the prosecution of embezzlement charges against Chef Todd Schneider. That decision was made only after a thorough review of the evidence and was based on upholding the law.

"In light of the plea today, we have examined the issue of outside counsel currently appointed to represent the governor, his staff, cabinet secretaries, and others in their official capacities, and have concluded that those attorneys will remain appointed for two reasons:

1)  several of the issues that arose from the chef's case are still present in an ongoing federal investigation, and the potentially divergent legal interests of this office's clients still exist; and

2) outside attorneys have been already working for months with the state employees they are representing. Changing attorneys in the middle of an ongoing investigation could be detrimental to those employees."

CBS 6 political analyst Dr. Bob Holsworth says today is however a victory for Ken Cuccinelli and Virginia Republicans as they will avoid a potentially embarrassing trial weeks before election day.

"This is the best news Cuccinelli has had in months," Holsworth said.

The Chef trial was scheduled for October 15.