By Peter GaluszkaJonnie Williams

Just who in hell is Jonnie R. Williams Sr., really? How did this pitchman with a two-year business degree and a dodgy career get so many smart, accomplished people to back him loyally?

He’s at the heart of Giftgate that could possibly include the resignation or criminal indictment of an otherwise successful Governor, Robert F. McDonnell, whose popularity in polls is now diving like a nuclear submarine. Cuccinelli is so involved with Williams’ schemes that he’s lost the initiative in his race for governor against a Democratic opponent with substantial baggage of his own.

I tried to find out in a cover story in Style Weekly this week. What I learned is that a scrappy guy from near Fredericksburg came on at a young age with a fine, inquisitive mind and an overweening ambition to be materially rich and also engage in various scientific business ideas that he thought might help society at large.

“Jonnie is a genius,” prominent Republican Party chieftain and lawyer Patrick McSweeney told me. “He has an uncanny ability to see a central path to a solution that other highly trained people have missed.”

Another backer and prominent Republican supporter is Richard Sharp, a Richmond business icon and founder of  highly-successful CarMax. He was taking Anatabloc, one of Williams’ wonder products for his Alzheimer’s, until, as his daughter writes on her blog, it didn’t seem to do much good, although he lost a lot of weight.

Williams’ firm, which has lost $230 million over the past decade, badly needs Anatabloc to sell or it will go under. It is the latest in a string of products that have gone nowhere, but brought Williams such symbols of capitalist success as golf club homes, corporate jets and Florida condos. He has surrounded himself with loyal, well-educated (and presumably highly well paid) executives.

That itself is curious because Williams has had a long string of failed businesses, lawsuits and clashes with the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission.

This begs big questions: Why did the McDonnells get so involved with him? A quid pro quo is hard to find because, as my story points out, Williams needs federal help such as Food & Drug Administration approval for the sales of anatabine-based products essential to his firm’s financial survival.

First Lady Maureen McDonnell has been a big fan of Williams and seems to be the one who pushed to get many of the gifts, such as a Rolex watch, Louis Vuitton clothing, loans, private plane rides, wedding luncheons, and so on.

Why? If you want a list of firms that could very well have more to gain from a closer relationship with the First Family, look at coal firms, Dominion and Altria who have given far more to McDonnell than Williams and Star Scientific.

Ditto Cuccinelli who seems to be a longer-standing “friend” of Williams than even the McDonnells. Terry McAuliffe, his Democratic opponent for governor, has a long history of deal making for political funds (he’s outraising Cuccinelli two to one) and has a remarkable history with the Clintons. But he has never been under the prosecutorial microscope that  Cuccinelli now is, raising the same question once again? Why would Cuccinelli risk so much for a man like Williams?

Didn’t they all see the risk here? These are questions my story cannot answer. The fact that Virginia needs to toughen its incredibly weak donation and gift laws seems a weak sideshow. The way McDonnell is lawyering up, it look like much bigger news will be popping.

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