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Life in Virginia executive mansion probed in corruption trial

By Gary Robertson

RICHMOND Va. (Reuters) - Prosecutors in the corruption trial of former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell and his wife Maureen probed their personal life on Wednesday, with an ex-aide saying the first lady had wanted more time with her husband and yelled at staffers.

The testimony by Mary Shea Sutherland, Maureen McDonnell's former chief of staff, counters defense contentions that the marriage was so frayed that the couple could not have conspired to take $165,000 in loans and gifts from a businessman.

Sutherland testified in U.S. District Court that Maureen McDonnell had asked about having more time with her husband, and staffers tried to get them together for dinner as often as possible.

She recalled McDonnell writing a poem to his wife, and once asked him what his definition of success was in terms of her job as the first lady’s chief of staff.

"’Come home to a happy wife,’” she quoted the Republican governor as saying.

The McDonnells face 14 counts of corruption and bribery for allegedly accepting gifts and loans from businessman Jonnie Williams Sr in exchange for supporting his former company, a dietary supplement maker now known as Rock Creek Pharmaceuticals Inc.

Defense attorneys have asserted that the couple’s marriage was crumbling and that the first lady had a “crush” on Williams. They also have argued that accepting the gifts was unseemly but not illegal.

When Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Aber asked Sutherland about a possible romance between Maureen McDonnell and Williams, she snickered and said, “No.”

Sutherland, who testified in the eighth day of the trial, said that Maureen McDonnell screamed so violently at her that guards twice responded.

Sutherland said the first lady yelled at other staff members as well.

A University of Virginia scientist, John Lazo, testified that when he was invited to attend a luncheon at the governor’s mansion with other researchers, he thought he was going to an official function.

It turned out to be a product launch for Anatabloc, an anti-inflammatory that was the main product of Williams' company.

Lazo said Williams handed him a $25,000 check at the luncheon that was to be used to apply for grants.

If convicted, the McDonnells could face more than 20 years in prison and a large fine. McDonnell's four-year term as governor ended in January.

(Writing by Ian Simpson; Editing by Bill Trott and Jim Loney)

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