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Cuccinelli discloses more gifts from Star Scientific CEO
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Cuccinelli discloses more gifts from Star Scientific CEO

New disclosures on Star executive exceed $5,100

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Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli received thousands of dollars more in gifts from Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams over the past four years than he originally disclosed, according to amended statements of economic interests the gubernatorial candidate released at a press briefing Friday.

The unreported gifts from Williams were a $628 flight to New York in 2009; a catered, $1,500 Thanksgiving dinner and stay for Cuccinelli’s family at Williams’ home in Smith Mountain Lake in 2010; and use of the lake house for a summer vacation valued at $3,000 in 2012.

The amended disclosures — dated Friday and signed by the attorney general — raise the total in gifts Cuccinelli has received from Williams and Star Scientific since 2009 to more than $18,000.

In early April, as reports surfaced over Williams’ gifts to Cuccinelli and Gov. Bob McDonnell and his family, Cuccinelli spokesman Brian Gottstein said the attorney general had “disclosed and detailed everything that Jonnie Williams ever gave him.”

But on Friday, Cuccinelli, the Republican candidate for governor, acknowledged: “I missed some things that I was supposed to disclose.” He said the omissions were “all inadvertent” and “unintentional on my part.”

Previously, Cuccinelli had reported receiving $13,000 in gifts from Williams, including lodging at Williams’ Goochland County mansion when he first started serving as attorney general; a week’s stay at the lake house in 2011; a flight to Kentucky to attend a political event; and a $6,700 box of Star Scientific’s dietary supplement, Anatabloc.

In a sit-down Friday with reporters at Republican Party of Virginia headquarters in Richmond, Cuccinelli said the errors were only discovered after a staff member brought up the vacation last year at Williams’ house. Its absence on the disclosure forms prompted what Cuccinelli described as “a pretty intense look back” over his records and calendars.

“The original failure in this area is entirely my responsibility,” he said.

The amended disclosures released Friday also reflect a previously unreported $7,750 trip in 2010 to Southwest Virginia for Cuccinelli and his parents, paid for by Alpha Natural Resources, during which Cuccinelli spoke at an awards ceremony.

Bristol-based Alpha Natural Resources Inc., the nation’s third-largest publicly traded coal producer, acquired Richmond-based Massey Energy Inc. in June 2011.

There was also a $795 trip for Cuccinelli in 2012 to speak at a rally that was paid for by the Federation for American Coal Energy and Security.

Cuccinelli’s campaign said it has asked Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael N. Herring, a Democrat, to review his amended disclosures.

There is no criminal penalty for an elected official who accidentally fails to disclose a gift. Knowingly failing to disclose a gift is considered a misdemeanor.

Brian Coy, a spokesman for the Democratic Party of Virginia, hammered Cuccinelli over the revelations.

“It is an embarrassment to Virginians that the person they hired to protect their laws can’t seem to comply with them with his repeated failures to disclose trips he took from his corporate benefactors like Jonnie Williams and Star Scientific,” Coy said.

“Virginians deserve better than Ken Cuccinelli’s ongoing conflict-of-interest scandals. He should resign and allow an attorney general to take office who puts the law ahead of his own personal agenda.”

At the same press briefing to discuss the amended forms, Cuccinelli’s campaign distributed a release outlining the candidate’s proposed reforms to the gift disclosure laws.

The proposals include a 10-day mandatory reporting period for gifts exceeding $500 for any state official; simplified forms for filing; and the closing of the “family loophole” that exempts from reporting gifts that are given to immediate family members.

Friday’s amended-disclosure episode is not the first problem Cuccinelli has faced regarding Williams and Star Scientific, and it represents a blow in the candidate’s ongoing political battle with Democratic rival Terry McAuliffe over which gubernatorial candidate is more transparent to voters.

Cuccinelli initially failed to disclose his stock holdings in Henrico County-based Star Scientific, a former tobacco company that has lost money for the past 10 years.

Cuccinelli amended his statements of economic interests last year to reflect his Star holdings after his campaign said he realized that the stock value had exceeded the $10,000 threshold for reporting.

On April 4, after days of pressure from Democrats, Cuccinelli recused the Attorney General’s Office from its role in defending the state against a 2011 lawsuit filed by Star over a long-disputed $860,000 tax assessment in Mecklenburg County.

Aides have described Cuccinelli as having a “friendly relationship” with Williams, whose company is under a federal securities investigation.

But earlier this month, Cuccinelli announced that he had divested his interest in Star Scientific and said he has not received any gifts or campaign contributions from Williams or his company in 2013.

On Friday, the attorney general said he has not spoken with Williams in nine months.

This week, Cuccinelli also filed a motion to recuse his office from prosecuting former Executive Mansion chef Todd Schneider, charged with four counts of felony embezzlement.

The Attorney General’s Office said that because it represents the governor and his administration, there could be a conflict when it comes to witnesses called in the case.

One of those potential witnesses could be Williams, who gave Schneider’s catering company a $15,000 check to help cover catering expenses at the June 2011 wedding of McDonnell’s daughter Cailin at the Executive Mansion.

Despite signing the catering contract and providing $8,000 in deposits, McDonnell did not declare the Williams gift, saying that he was not required to do so because it was a gift to his daughter.

jnolan@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6061

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