Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

September 18, 2013

Ex-chef at Va. governor’s mansion enters plea

Associated Press

RICHMOND, Va. — The former chef at Virginia’s Executive Mansion pleaded guilty Wednesday to a reduced misdemeanor charge that he stole food from the first family’s kitchen in a case that has sparked state and federal investigations into gifts given to the governor and his family.

Todd Schneider had been charged with four counts of felony embezzlement, but pleaded no contest Wednesday to two misdemeanor embezzlement charges. He was ordered to serve six months in jail on each charge, but the sentence was suspended. He also was ordered to make restitution of $2,300 to the state for the food he took.

Schneider’s trial had been scheduled for Oct. 15, less than three weeks before Virginia’s gubernatorial election.

The case against Schneider brought to light allegations of misconduct against Gov. Bob McDonnell and his family. Schneider told investigators the first family had taken undisclosed gifts from a wealthy donor, that the family had taken items from the kitchen and that the governor required him and other state employees to work private and political events.

In exchange of payment for those events, he was directed to take the food that he is now accused of stealing, Schneider has said.

Authorities are investigating the relationship between McDonnell and first lady Maureen McDonnell and Jonnie Williams, chief executive of troubled nutritional supplements maker Star Scientific Inc.

Investigators are looking into whether Williams or his company benefited as a result of more than $124,000 worth of gifts and loans to the first family.

McDonnell has defended not reporting the gifts, noting that Virginia’s public ethics laws require the disclosure only of gifts given directly to public officials, not their family members. In July, however, he publicly apologized for his actions and those of his family and announced that the gifts and loans are being returned or repaid to Williams.

The Schneider case has also entangled Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican candidate for governor.

Cuccinelli also accepted more than $18,000 worth of gifts from Williams and Star Scientific, and once owned more than $10,000 in company stock. Some of the gratuities, including a $3,000 summer family vacation and a catered $1,500 Thanksgiving dinner at Williams’ palatial waterside getaway at Smith Mountain Lake near the Blue Ridge Mountains, were not disclosed until April, when Cuccinelli amended four years’ of economic disclosure forms to include items he said he had earlier forgotten.

In July, Richmond’s Democratic commonwealth’s attorney, Mike Herring, said in a report that Cuccinelli broke no state law with his tardy disclosures of Williams’ gifts.

Then, earlier this month, Cuccinelli gave a Richmond charity $18,000, the same value as gifts he accepted from Williams.