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Former Virginia governor says in final brief that favors were routine courtesies, not bribery

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RICHMOND, Virginia — Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell made his final written plea to a federal appeals court Wednesday, arguing that the favors he did for a wealthy businessman were routine courtesies and not part of a bribery scheme.

The onetime rising Republican star made the argument in a 54-page brief in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. A three-judge panel of the court will conduct a hearing on his appeal of his public corruption convictions on May 12.

McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, were convicted in a joint trial in September of accepting more than $165,000 in gifts and loans from former Star Scientific Inc. CEO Jonnie Williams in exchange for promoting his company's nutritional supplements. Bob McDonnell was sentenced to two years in prison and his wife to one year and one day, but they remain free while they pursue separate appeals.

"Governor McDonnell never promised anything and never did anything besides extend to Williams the sorts of routine courtesies elected officials throughout the country extend to donors and benefactors every day," McDonnell's lawyers wrote in the latest filing, which is a reply to the government's previous brief urging the court to uphold the convictions.

One of McDonnell's chief claims on appeal is that the favors he did for Williams did not amount to "official acts" covered by federal bribery law. In the new filing, he argues that a meeting McDonnell arranged for Williams with an administration official was "innocuous" and that there was nothing special about an event at the Executive Mansion to launch Star's signature product, the anti-inflammatory Anatabloc.

"Governor McDonnell arrived late, made neutral comments, and left. He never asked anyone to do anything for Williams," the brief says.

McDonnell argues that in addition to mischaracterizing such events as "official acts," the government incorrectly suggested that McDonnell kept his staff in the dark about most of Williams' gifts. Among the gifts were almost $20,000 worth of designer clothing and accessories for Maureen McDonnell, vacations, golf outings and $15,000 for a daughter's wedding.

The former governor also renewed claims that the judge improperly denied separate trials for Bob and Maureen McDonnell and that he failed to adequately question jurors about pretrial news coverage.

Williams, who was seeking state-financed research on Anatabloc while lavishing the McDonnells with gifts and loans, testified under immunity for the prosecution.

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