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Virginia attorney general apologizes for role in gift scandal

Ken Cuccinelli is seen in this undated file photo, courtesy of the Cuccinelli Campaign. REUTERS/Cuccinelli Campaign/Handout/Files
Ken Cuccinelli is seen in this undated file photo, courtesy of the Cuccinelli Campaign. REUTERS/Cuccinelli Campaign/Handout/Files

By Gary Robertson

RICHMOND, Virginia (Reuters) - Virginia's Republican gubernatorial candidate on Tuesday said he would give a charity $18,000, the value of gifts he received from a political donor whose gift-giving sparked a federal investigation.

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli accepted $18,000 in gifts from Virginia-based dietary supplement maker Star Scientific Inc, and its chief executive, Jonnie Williams. The gifts included vacation stays at Williams' former lakeside mansion in Virginia, a jet flight and a catered Thanksgiving dinner.

Federal authorities are investigating Republican Governor Bob McDonnell and his family for accepting more than $160,000 in gifts and loans from Star Scientific, a major donor to McDonnell's campaign.

Cuccinelli, who will face former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe in November's gubernatorial election, apologized on Tuesday for his role in the scandal.

"For those who've been disappointed in this situation or how I've handled it, I apologize. It's been a humbling set of lessons for me," he said in a statement.

Cuccinelli said he had written a check for the value of the gifts he received from Williams to the CrossOver Healthcare Ministry, a Richmond-based charity. He said the money came from personal funds. CrossOver's website describes the charity as Virginia's largest free healthcare clinic.

McDonnell, who has faced calls for his resignation over his relationship with Star Scientific, said in July he had repaid $120,000 in loans to Williams, and would return all gifts, including a Rolex watch.

In July, Cuccinelli stated he could not return the gifts, saying, "Some bells you can't unring."

Later, the attorney general said he would return the value of the gifts if he could, but his family's finances would not permit it.

In recent polls, Cuccinelli has trailed Democrat McAuliffe in the governor's race.

A mid-August poll by Quinnipiac University gave McAuliffe a 6-point lead. A survey of 653 registered voters released August 30 by the Emerson College Polling Society said McAuliffe held a 10-point lead over Cuccinelli.

(Editing by Tim Gaynor and Stacey Joyce)

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