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Richmond judge won't make Cuccinelli testify in chef's case

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Posted: Wednesday, July 3, 2013 7:30 pm | Updated: 4:44 pm, Wed Jul 17, 2013.

A Richmond Circuit Court judge on Wednesday refused to compel Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and one of his assistants to testify in the embezzlement case against Todd Schneider, former chef at the Executive Mansion.

Circuit Court Judge Margaret P. Spencer wrote in her ruling that because Schneider is not questioning the legality of the grand jury, the validity of the indictment or the appointment of the special prosecutor, the issue of whether to dismiss his case is a question of law.

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“Therefore, no testimony is needed about conflicts or ‘prosecutorial decisions’ by former prosecutors” the judge wrote, referring to Cuccinelli and Patrick Dorgan, a senior assistant to the attorney general.

On Monday Spencer will hold a hearing on Schneider’s motion to dismiss the four felony counts of embezzlement.

In advance of the hearing, the mansion’s executive director, Sarah Scarbrough, has been subpoenaed to testify in the case.

Schneider has accused the governor and first family of using mansion resources for private political and personal events. Schneider has been charged with four counts of felony embezzlement related to the theft of food and supplies.

Cuccinelli obtained the Schneider indictment in March. But in May, citing conflicts with potentially having to cross examine witnesses his office technically represents, Cuccinelli requested — and was granted permission by Spencer — to withdraw from prosecuting the case.

Defense attorneys Steven D. Benjamin and Betty Layne DesPortes argue that Schneider was denied due process. They say Cuccinelli’s office should have stepped out of the case months earlier — as soon as it was apparent that Schneider had alleged criminal wrongdoing by the governor and his family in their use of mansion resources and in their relationship with Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams Sr.

Seeking an indictment of Schneider when the attorney general had conflicts of interest was misconduct, defense lawyers argued.

On May 2, Spencer granted Cuccinelli’s motion to withdraw and appointed Norfolk Commonwealth’s Attorney Gregory D. Underwood as the special prosecutor.

Schneider, who is set to go on trial in October, has spoken to federal and state investigators about his claims and maintains that he was told to take food from the mansion in lieu of payment for the personal events for which he was not compensated.

Schneider claims in a court filing by his lawyers that he was the first family’s “personal shopper and private caterer” called upon to perform duties “far beyond the scope” of his employment, work for which he was not paid.

A job description for the executive chef, provided by the governor’s office states that the chef “prepares meals for the first family, guests, and appropriate staff.”

“Also, the chef prepares food for all events, including: meals hosted by the governor and/or first lady; receptions; meetings; holiday events; and other special needs as directed by the mansion director.”

The description, which a McDonnell spokesman said was in place at the time of Schneider’s hire, concludes that the chef “performs other related duties as required.”

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