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 who is 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, defense attorneys for Schneider 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, including children not living at the taxpayer-funded residence, 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."

"It is in the best interest of justice and getting this case resolved without any appearance of impropriety" for the attorney general's office to step away from the case," 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.

It's the second high-profile case from which Cuccinelli has recused himself in recent weeks. 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 he sold it earlier this month.

Schneider is at least tangentially related to that case because his company catered a wedding for McDonnell's daughter and was paid not by McDonnell but by Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams. Williams has given gifts to both Cuccinelli and McDonnell, and in 2011 the CEO paid for Cuccinelli to campaign for an attorney general candidate in Kentucky.

Josh Schwerin, a spokesman for Cuccinelli's opponent, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, criticized Cuccinelli for "getting caught in an ethics conflict."

"Ken Cuccinelli is admitting he can't adequately represent Virginia taxpayers," Schwerin said.

scontorno@washingtonexaminer.com

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