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Ken Cuccinelli recuses himself from case involving Virginia governor's chef

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Local,Virginia,Steve Contorno

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli recused himself Wednesday from a state legal case against a former executive mansion chef facing charges of embezzlement.

Todd Schneider, who ran the kitchen at the governor's residence from 2010 to 2012, is charged with four counts of taking state property worth $200 or more. On Tuesday, Schneider's lawyers asked the court for records of food and resources taken outside the mansion by Gov. Bob McDonnell, his wife and his five children. The court documents insinuate that McDonnell's family used the refrigerator and liquor cabinet as a personal pantry.

Cuccinelli spokesman Brian Gottstein said the request by Schneider's lawyers is a clear sign that his "defense counsel was looking to reach beyond the embezzlement charges and instead politicize this case."

"The attorney general feels it is in the best interest of justice and getting this case resolved without any appearance of impropriety to recuse his office from it," Gottstein said.

Cuccinelli appointed Prince William County Commonwealth's Attorney Paul Ebert to take over the state's case, though the judge must approve the appointment. A hearing is scheduled for May 2.

In court documents, Schneider alleges McDonnell's daughter Jeanine took liquor from the mansion to Camp Pendleton, a state-owned beach cottage often used by governors, where she remained for months. Schneider asked for information on "bottled water, cups, Gatorade, protein powder" used by sons Sean and Bobby McDonnell at their college residences, "flats of eggs taken from the mansion by [daughter] Rachel McDonnell," and "pots and pans from the mansion given to Jeanine, Rachel or Cailin McDonnell by [first lady] Maureen McDonnell."

In defending himself against the embezzlement charges, Schneider, who once worked for Martha Stewart, suggests that he was told to pay himself by "taking it out in trade" when the state would not pay him.

Cuccinelli's recusal marks the second time in recent weeks he has stepped away from a case. The Republican attorney general, who is running for governor this year, appointed outside counsel to take over a lawsuit involving Star Scientific, a company in which Cuccinelli held stock until earlier this month.

Schneider is at least tangentially related to that case because his company catered a wedding for McDonnell's daughter paid for by Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams. Williams has given gifts to both Cuccinelli and McDonnell.

Josh Schwerin, a spokesman for Cuccinelli's opponent, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, criticized Cuccinelli for "getting caught in an ethics conflict," adding that "Ken Cuccinelli is admitting he can't adequately represent Virginia taxpayers."

scontorno@washingtonexaminer.com

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