The State Trooper at Jonnie Williams’ House

By Peter GaluszkaVirginia_State_Police_car

For three years, residents in a secluded, leafy road in Goochland County near a famous golf course were mystified by the sudden appearance of State Police cars running up and down Hunting Ridge Road day and night.

Some knew that at the end of the road is the long winding driveway to the 28-acre estate owned by Jonnie R. Williams Sr., the kingpin of a controversy over gifts and loans that has drawn in top state officials including Gov. Robert F. McDonnell and Atty. Gen. Kenneth Cuccinelli, who stayed at the Williams property with some of his aides when he was moving into his office in early 2010. McDonnell has said he and his wife have often had dinner with Williams.

With the drumbeat of news about Williams’ ties local residents started asking questions about why the State Police cars showed up and why they suddenly vanished a few months ago. Here’s my story in this week’s Style Weekly.

The State Police says that there were police cars there but they had nothing to do with providing security for Williams or anyone else. A State Trooper on duty in Henrico and Hanover Counties had stayed in a detached studio apartment on Williams’ property that includes a swimming pool, tennis court and baseball diamond. He left the apartment a few months ago (curiously close to the time Williams’ gifts to McDonnell were disclosed). A State Police spokeswoman says she doesn’t know if the trooper paid rent.

McDonnell and his wife have accepted thousands of dollars in gifts from Williams, including rides in his corporate jet, wedding luncheons, New York shopping sprees, a Rolex watch and others. Cuccinelli has accepted gifts as well and did not initially disclose stock he owned in Star Scientific, Williams’ firm.

Cuccinelli also spent a festive Thanksgiving at Williams’ Smith Mountain Lake vacation home. He has been cleared of wrongdoing by a local prosecutor but FBI and local probes of McDonnell and Williams continue.

On July 23, McDonnell publicly apologized for the more than $120,000 in loans he took from Williams and that he had repaid them. He didn’t mention the gifts. He’s not off the hook yet as far as the probes.

And that makes the presence of a State Trooper at Jonnie’s house all the more interesting.

21 Responses to The State Trooper at Jonnie Williams’ House

  1. Ordinarily, I would yawn at a story like this. I would even dispute its newsworthiness. There could be a dozen possible innocent explanations that have nothing to do with Williams’ relationship to Governor McDonnell. Indeed, if I were as wealthy as Williams, I would feel a lot more secure renting out my guest apartment to a state trooper.

    But these are not ordinary times. After the drip, drip, drip of revelations, who knows? Any interaction between Williams and state government now is suspect.

  2. Whoa, Nelly. I am aware of others who let unmarried (and I guess maybe married) state troopers use, or rent at a reasonable rate, guest houses or apartments on their property. The one example I’m personally aware of was an individual who also lived out in the country, and loved to have the security of a police car parked on his property and a police officer nearby, and liked the idea of helping a young officer make a limited salary go a bit further. When one officer moved on, he’d put the word out that the unit was available for someone else. No harm no foul in that instance, and it might very well be the same situation here.

    Years ago we had a trooper in our neighborhood, and we all felt safer with that car parked on the street. It has long been the practice that many of the officers keep the vehicles at home when off shift.

  3. Once again – the Richmond mentality raises its head.

    If the state trooper paid market rate rent to Mr. Williams – fine. However, if the state trooper paid anything less than market rate rent – it is a gift! Why is this so hard for people to understand this?

    Hypothetically speaking, if Jonnie Williams can provide rent – free or reduced rate accommodations to a state policeman then I guess I can go around at Christmas time and hand out envelopes with $1,000 in cash to the police who patrol my neighborhood, right?

    Let’s hope the state trooper had sufficient common sense to pay Mr. Williams a market rate rent.

    One final note (that I have made before) – gifts may represent taxable income. Some gifts are taxable if they represent something other than simple generosity. All gifts are taxable if they exceed a certain annual amount.

    http://blogs.roanoke.com/politics/2013/07/23/ethics-group-asks-irs-to-explore-star-gifts-to-mcdonnell-cuccinelli/

  4. I’m sure the Governor and his lawyers are well aware of the potential tax implications, and they are well known to Mr. Williams and his advisors. I’m sure the IRS has been interested for a long time. That press release was classic grandstanding. But both parties do it so whatever.

    But this thing, the cop on the property, is a non story and borders on a cheap shot. You give a cop a $1000 gratuity and that is likely to violate policy, and if he is wise he will refuse it, but I’m not aware that it is illegal. Feel free to send me a grand if you’d like. You give him $50,000 as a gratuity and yes, there will be tax implications. If I have a guest house I can invite whomever I like and charge no rent, if I want, especially if the unit would otherwise be vacant. If my brother uses my vacation house a few weekends, are you going to call the IRS to audit him?

    Actually, I think you would.

    But now this is about hate. This has become a blood sport.

    • You should spend the time required to understand the basics of the IRS code. A gift of any size can only be tax deductible if it is made purely from generosity. If I invite Beyonce to a party at my house and pay her $10,000 to attend – that is not a gift. Why? Because I didn’t give the money to Beyonce out of pure generosity. I gave her the money to attend my party and impress my other guests.

      Now, let’s hypothetically say that Jonnie Williams let the state trooper stay at his guest house rent free. Was that pure generosity or did Williams like the idea of getting the added security of having a state trooper very visibly on the road to his house and on his grounds? Let me put it this way – I doubt you’ll ever see a rich guy let a teacher stay at his house for free. Or a VDOT accountant.

      The question of your brother is as illogical as the remainder of your arguments. The question, per the IRS code, is whether the gift was made out of pure generosity. In the case of your brother, I’d assume that was the case.

      “If I have a guest house I can invite whomever I like and charge no rent, if I want, especially if the unit would otherwise be vacant.”.

      Of course you can. Nobody has ever questioned that. The issue is whether the value of the free stay is a gift or compensation. If the offer of free lodging was made out of pure generosity then it is a gift and, subject to a ceiling, is a tax free transaction. If the free stay was compensation for some item of value given back by the tenant then it is compensation and subject to taxation.

      Maybe I’ll ask my company to buy a house and then let me stay there for free. What the hell – it would be their house, right? I assume even you would see that as compensation.

      Breckenridge – read the article again. If, and I repeat if, Williams allowed a state policeman to live rent free on his property there is a legitimate question whether that was an expression of pure generosity or a way for a rich guy to compensate a law enforcement official for adding to his personal security off the tax books.

  5. Bacon may “yawn” but I agree with Don the Riper that we have to get out of this Richmond thinking. Under the current circumstances, the idea of having a police officer “staying” on a massive estate of a man who has given gifts to and made loans to top state officials is just plain questionable.

    This isn’t blood sport. Richmond and Virginia are just as venal as any other place and I have lived in some pretty crooked spots such as Chicago and Moscow. Being “Virginian” doesn’t magically change human nature no matter how many myths of gentlemanliness people want to believe.

    • Richmond as venal as Chicago and Moscow? Are you serious? Bob McDonnell’s sins are so small-time by Chicago standards they wouldn’t make the front page of the Chicago Times.

      • First things first – the comparison should be between Virginia and Illinois, not Chicago and Richmond.

        Virginia is more venal.

        The difference between Virginia and Illinois is that politicians who betray the public trust in Illinois are first exposed and reviled by the quite effective media in that state; second, investigated by the ethics commission in that state; and third, prosecuted if they have been found to violate the substantial anti-corruption laws in that state.

        Virginia’s inept media misses most stories and sweeps many others under the rug. Whatever happened to the issue with Orion Air? There is no state ethics panel so there is no investigation of alleged corruption. Finally, there almost no laws banning wildly inappropriate behavior. So, there are few prosecutions.

        Illinois at least tries to mandate accountability for its elected officials. Virginia fails even that simple test. Virginia is for venality should be the new state motto.

    • Government officials and state employees should not accept any gifts from anyone with a value of more than $50. The only exception is gifts from the official or employee’s immediate family.

      In an era where government and government officials have some of the lowest favorability ratings in history it is all the more important to maintain independence in fact and in appearance.

      When I was the Chief Technology Officer for a huge company that made billions of dollars in procurement decisions for technology equipment I was offered a lot of gifts. The offers were never money. However, a free trip on a potential vendor’s private airplane along with lodging and tickets to the Master’s golf tournament was offered every year. I never accepted because I felt it would at least open the question of a lack of independence in appearance.

      Funny thing – since I retired from that big company I no longer get calls offering to take me to the Master’s on the private jet!

      Make no mistake – all of this Giftgate crap is about buying influence (either now or in the future) from public officials.

      The question of why Virginians tolerate these absurdities is less about an over confidence in human nature and more about the bizarre relationship between the self-proclaimed elites in this state and the ordinary people. Over centuries the elites have brainwashed the hoi polloi into turning a blind eye to their almost endless transgressions. These transgressions have run the gamut from making Virginia the center of an immoral war that killed over 600,000 Americans to Massive Resistance to letting the elected elite line their pockets with ill gotten gains.

      It’s time we started holding these people to account for their piss poor behavior. And the perfect place to begin this turn toward morality is the state government.

  6. As I said in my first comment, at this point, “Any interaction between Williams and state government now is suspect.” The story is worth pursuing because Williams has a different sense of what constitutes appropriate behavior than most of us. But it’s way too early to draw conclusions of any kind.

    Suspicions aren’t facts. As Breckinridge says, there is nothing wrong with someone letting out an apartment to a state policeman. There’s not even anything wrong with letting out an apartment at a below-market rate, if the presence of a state trooper increases the owner’s sense of security. But we don’t have the faintest idea what kind of rent the policeman was paying, so anything we say at this point is raw, unsubstantiated speculation.

    • Jim – are you really this dense? If Williams gives below market rent to increase his level of security then Williams has compensated the state policeman for the consideration of increased security. Compensation is taxable.

      McDonnell and Cuccinelli may have a very serious tax problem. If they accepted compensation in the form of gifts and failed to report the compensation as income then they have violated federal and state tax laws. Go back and read a biography of Al Capone if you want to better understand the seriousness of that.

      As for the case at hand – you claim it’s a yawner. It is not a yawner. A simple question of rents must be answered. If the lodging was provided rent free than a question of whether it was from pure generosity or in consideration for added security arises. If it was for added security then it is taxable.

      You rant and rail about hidden subsidies. You piss and moan about tax breaks for crony capitalists. But you can’t see that failing to pay taxes on compensation is the same thing.

      I am trying to explain to you why this is not a yawner. A rich friend of the governor and the attorney general may (OR MAY NOT) have engaged in a transaction that has tax implications. Do you trust the recipient of Williams’ gifts to properly and thoroughly investigate their benefactor in this situation?

  7. I agree with Don. Jim are you really that dense?

    Your attitude is that we shouldn’t be asking questions at all because we don’t “know” what the rental arrangements are between Williams and the state trooper. We assume everything is just fine.

    While we’re at it, remember that McDonnell is “renting” his $850,000 home to Virginia’s health commissioner. We don’t know the details, either.

    The previous health commissioner resigned because of political interference with her doing her job. McD and Cooch were implementing rigid new restrictions on legal abortion clinics.

    So, we find out that her replacement is living in McD’s house!

    Maybe Jim Bacon ses no problem with it, but Larry Sabato does. He called it “just plain bad judgment.”

    Jim Bacon lives in a Richmond fairyland.

    BTW, there is no Chicago Times. There is a Sun-Times and a Tribune, but no Times.

    • One of the big problems in Virginia is that members of the media consider themselves to also be members of Virginia’s elite society. Rather than operating as rebels, cynics, fact finders and occasional iconoclasts, Virginia’s media leaders would rather rub elbows with the elected hacks and crony capitalists they should be investigating.

      It’s time to break up “the Richmond club” of eternal politicians, crony capitalists and their apologists in the traditional media. Right now, I think the best available option for that is to vote against incumbents in November. That includes the incumbent Attorney General who seems to be a pea in the pod of Richmond – based elitism.

      Side note: “the Richmond club” is, unfortunately, open to admission for anybody willing to toss aside morality and responsibility to the electorate. The vast majority of members are not originally from Richmond and the vast majority of Richmonders would never lower themselves to membership in that club.

  8. Don,
    Not sure I agree with you about the Richmond media. A few people do act that way, but it really goes back to the old Media General and the Bryan family. There has never been a strong tradition of questioning authority in Richmond because the Bryan family never wanted it. There were a few strong editors like Virginius Dabney but whenever the Bryan family wanted an anti-integration editorial they’d get some advertising hack to doit and Dabney never quit. He just went along with it.
    Actually, the working press is (or used to be) treated as a kind of second rate bumbler set by the elites of Richmond. I have worked in Washington and New York and there people respect you if you say you are a journalist. In Richmond, they look down their noses at you.

    • It was actually Virginius Darby who got me going. His grand-father was president of the University of Virginia, I believe. There is a dorm at UVA named Dabney. He was a member of the Richmond elite. He never quit because going against the remainder of the elite would have caused him to lose membership in the elite.

  9. I Breckinridge might be correct for most people and situations. We have an informal network of “supporters” down our way to work to find entry level teachers and LE “affordable” places to live.

    but Jonnie Williams is not some anonymous “supporter”. He’s dirty and Breckinridge sort of reminds me of someone defending a known gangster doing something perfectly “innocent”… looking….

    It _could_ be something perfectly innocent but at this point in time, we have ample evidence so much of what Mr. Williams had been up to – to know was not “perfectly innocent”.

    however.. he still gets the benefit of doubt until they get the goods….

    • You are still missing the overall point. You can work to help field level teachers find entry level places to work because you are not personally expecting to get anything back. You can bring soup to a soup kitchen and serve it to homeless people without it being a taxable event for the same reason.

      However, you could not give a teacher free room and board and then expect that teacher to tutor your kids for free. Or, at least, there would be tax implications.

  10. I agree with Don, but there are points other than taxes. What you are seeing here is a very large pattern of ties, money and connections that aren’t really on the up and up. Did Williams love the State Police so much that he kept an apartment available for years? My information is that he started three years ago. Guess what happened three years ago? McDonnell and Cuccinelli took office. Cuccinelli started staying at this place.
    If you get a chance, run it on Google Earth. The property is very large. It is elite. It was owned by Harry Figgie, the industrialist. It is not like renting out the average studio room over your garage to a freshly minted school teacher or police officer.
    What frustrates me so much since I started working in Virginia off and on since back in 1973 is that people just don’t get it. They do in other states. I have often thought about leaving this place because of this obtuseness. These are some of the same people who thought that Massive Resistance was OK. These are the people who lecture about morality and then take dirty loans. It takes three months of nasty press before they even consider coming clean and even then it is half done.

  11. I’ve started the ticket fund, Peter. Tell me where you want to go and I’ll raise the funds. Be prepared to pay taxes on it. It will be a gift and it certainly will be of benefit to me so it won’t be out of generosity.

    So somebody who offers a police officer (or a baseball player, for that matter) a low cost or free apartment because they like having them around is somehow corrupt? Or corrupting the police officer? We’re going to sic the IRS on them for unreported compensation? Have we sunk that far into the morass of political correctness? I’m not defending McDonnell or Williams (no way, that was real corruption) but I will stand up for the cop and the many other people who do things like that for honorable reasons.

  12. Actually, I’m not done. First, the reference to massive resistance was a low blow even for you, Peter, and really lowered my opinion of you. Second, the other person I know who made a habit of inviting a police officer to his property never asked the cop to do anything. Just like the people who provide low cost housing to young teachers are doing it because they like teachers. Dragging those examples into a discussion of somebody who loaned/gave a sitting governor ONE EIGHTH MILLION DOLLARS IN CASH, and who plied the Governor’s wife with the kinds of gifts normally reserved for mistresses, is hardly fair to the teachers or troopers. Shame on both of you. Third, yes, absent evidence to the contrary, I’m willing to assume Williams is capable of honest, honorable and charitable behavior toward a police officer, or anybody else he would like to benefit from staying on his property.

  13. Breckinridge,
    No apologies for the Massive Resistance statement. It’s my view of Virginia and I’m sticking to it.

    As for “being -nice-to-cops,” a police officer should generally live where he or she wants and can afford. But police occupy a special position in society and should not place themselves in a compromising position or one that could appear to be compromising. With all the stink around Williams and McDonnell, the trooper’s place of residence was questionable. His superiors ought to have wondered about it. Maybe they did, because the trooper somehow left just as this was hitting the fan.
    And let’s not forget that the State Police HAVE been involved in this tangled web. They were around when Todd Schneider, the fired chef, went to Cuccinelli’s office with tales of Williams’ gifts to McDonnell. Cuccinelli apparently did nothing about it. Why?
    This is not “political correctness.” It’s called ethics. This is a low blow, Breckinridge, even for you. My opinion of you has dropped.

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