Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell given 2 years in prison

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RICHMOND, Va. — A federal judge has sentenced former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell to two years in prison, followed by two years of supervised release, for 11 convictions on public corruption charges.

He’ll start his prison term Feb. 9. He also must pay $1,100 — which is $100 per charge.

His sentencing ends the dramatic downfall of the Republican governor once heralded as a rising star — tapped to give the party’s 2010 rebuttal to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union, and a fixture on short lists for national office.

Now, McDonnell has another distinction: He’s the first Virginia governor ever convicted of public corruption.

U.S. District Court Judge James Spencer delivered the sentence in a Richmond courtroom Tuesday morning that was packed with dozens of local and national journalists whose eyes McDonnell had first caught while he battled with legislative Democrats in one of the nation’s most important presidential swing states.

Moments before his sentencing, McDonnell told the Spencer “I stand before you as a heartbroken and humbled man.”

Spencer said he doesn’t understand why good people do bad things, but McDonnell’s crimes couldn’t be ignored — even if the sentencing guidelines were too harsh in this case.

“This entire case has been tragic from beginning to end,” Spencer said.

The decision came after 30 minutes of debate between prosecutors and McDonnell’s attorneys over technical issues — including the U.S. probation office’s sentencing guidelines and just how much of a businessman’s largesse actually improperly benefited McDonnell.

McDonnell’s lawyers had argued for 6,000 hours of community service — or three years’ worth of work. They handed in more than 400 letters, including one from Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine and one from former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, supporting McDonnell’s argument that he’s led an exemplary public life marred by one incident.

But prosecutors instead sought 10 to 12 years in prison, in line with federal sentencing guidelines, according to the probation office. “After serving as a prosecutor and attorney general, this defendant corrupted an office that few bribery defendants achieve, and then falsely shifted blame for his actions before the jury convicted him,” U.S. Attorney Dana Boente wrote in a sentencing memorandum.

McDonnell’s attorneys made some gains over technical issues, with the judge agreeing that the bribes he took are overstated and lowering the sentencing guidelines to between 6 1/2 and 8 years.

McDonnell, 60, was convicted in September of 11 felony public corruption charges. His wife, Maureen, was also found guilty on eight charges and faces sentencing on Feb. 20.

In what observers of the trial called a surprise, Maureen McDonnell did attend her husband’s sentencing on Tuesday, arriving about 20 minutes after the former governor.

The charges were a result of the McDonnell family accepting about $177,000 in gifts and loans from Richmond businessman Jonnie Williams. The trial was an emotional ordeal that often pitted McDonnell and other members of his family against his wife, who was portrayed as the driver of the family’s connections with Williams.

The gifts included shopping trips with dress purchases in New York and more — the bills for which McDonnell’s attorney, John Brownlee, said the former governor never knew were footed by Williams.

“We believe that these things were kept from Mr. McDonnell — at least the source who paid for them,” he said. Pointing to several of the individual trips and gifts, he argued that McDonnell should be sentenced for having taken $69,000 in inappropriate gifts, rather than $177,000.

McDonnell’s attorneys have signaled they are all but certain to appeal, and urged Spencer to keep McDonnell out of prison during that process.