They were charged with 14 felony counts, including wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, obtaining property under color of their official office and conspiring, the Washington Post reported. If convicted they could face years in prison and heavy fines.
Federal officials allege McDonnell and his wife received nearly $10,000 in gifts from Richmond executive Jonnie R. Williams, pelting him with nearly constant requests for money, clothes, trips, golf accessories and private plane rides, the report said.
Virginia's first couple accepted more than $135,000 in direct payments as loans and gifts from Williams, the Hill newspaper reported.
The McDonnells in exchange allegedly worked to lend their prestige to Williams' financially struggling company, a small cigarette manufacturer that now sells dietary supplements, the Post said.
The former governor issued a statement through his lawyer expressing regret but denying any illegal acts.
"My fellow Virginians, earlier today federal prosecutors notified my attorneys that they have filed criminal charges against me and my wife Maureen," the statement said, "alleging that we violated federal law by accepting gifts and loans from Jonnie Williams, the former CEO [chief executive officer] of Star Scientific. I deeply regret accepting legal gifts and loans from Mr. Williams, all of which have been repaid with interest, and I have apologized for my poor judgment for which I take full responsibility. However, I repeat emphatically that I did nothing illegal for Mr. Williams in exchange for what I believed was his personal generosity and friendship."
McDonnell promised to "fight these false allegations, and to prevail against this unjust overreach of the federal government."
McDonnell, 59, is the first Virginia governor to face criminal charges, the Post said.