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U.S. judge to rule Tuesday in corruption case of ex-Virginia governor, wife

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) during their annual meeting in Washington, Feb
Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) during their annual meeting in Washington, Feb

By Gary Robertson

RICHMOND, Virginia (Reuters) - A U.S. judge said he would rule by Tuesday on whether to drop corruption charges against former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell and his wife as well as on their request to have separate trials.

McDonnell, a Republican who left office in January, and his wife, Maureen, face a 14-count federal indictment charging them with conspiring to accept about $165,000 in gifts, vacations and loans from businessman Jonnie Williams in exchange for helping his company, dietary supplement maker Star Scientific Inc.

During a hearing on Monday, U.S. District Court Judge James Spencer said he would rule on defense motions to dismiss 11 conspiracy and fraud charges and holding separate trials. Defense attorneys contend the couple would not be able to testify on each other's behalf in a joint trial.

"I'm going to resolve these issues swiftly, and by swiftly I mean tomorrow," he said.

The judge also said he would act soon on other motions, including a request from the defense for expanded jury selection.

Prosecutors have portrayed the couple as short on money when they accepted the largesse from Williams. Robert McDonnell, 59, was financially unable to pay some bills for beachfront houses he owned through a corporation during his term as governor, according to court papers filed by prosecutors.

The case has centered on whether what the McDonnells did was illegal or just unseemly. Lawyers in the hearing repeated arguments in filings over the definition of official acts and whether the couple abused their offices to help Williams or extended him routine courtesies.

Both McDonnell and his wife have sought to have the case split into separate trials, but prosecutors contend that defendants who are indicted together should be tried together.

The jury trial is set for July 28. Defense lawyers, as well as five former state attorneys general, have argued that prosecutors are trying to criminalize politics with their case against McDonnell.

Supporters have estimated the trial would cost the McDonnells more than $1 million, and have started a defense fund.

Williams resigned in December as Star Scientific's chief executive. He has not been charged with any wrongdoing.

(Editing by Ian Simpson and G Crosse)

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