Make money from home! (Even if your home is the governor’s mansion.)

Many months ago, an acquaintance was invited to join a small gathering at the estate of erstwhile Charlottesville-area millionaire Patricia Kluge. Kluge was inviting some women over to a brunch at Albemarle House, an event at which the honored guest was Virginia’s first lady, Maureen McDonnell. Unbeknownst to the invitees, the host was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. When they showed up for the event, Albemarle House was off-limits—soon to be sold on the courthouse steps—and the puzzled guests were directed to one of the model homes, bare of furniture. Left standing around in the living room, with no brunch to be found, their host and the first lady soon showed up. After only a brief introduction, McDonnell began to deliver a pitch. Gradually it dawned on the attendees that this was some kind of a pyramid scheme diet-pill scam. One by one, they slipped out, desperate to escape the suffocating awkwardness of the weird affair.

I was told this story shortly afterwards, and mostly found it baffling. The first lady? Hawking scam diet pills? What in the world? I had no frame of reference for such a story, and I decided to keep it to myself.

First lady Maureen McDonnell, Gov. Bob McDonnell, Donald Trump, and Patricia Kluge.
First lady Maureen McDonnell, Gov. Bob McDonnell, Donald Trump, and Patricia Kluge.

With the benefit of time, this story is no longer baffling. Instead, I get the sense that it’s a piece of a larger puzzle, a puzzle that a state-appointed prosecutor and the FBI are trying to assemble. There is a relationship between the governor, the first lady, and Star Scientific, a Virginia-based company that recently got out of the cheap-cigarette business and into the dietary supplement business. Star and its CEO have given $120,000 to McDonnell and his PAC, but apparently also gave some undisclosed gifts to McDonnell’s family, including his wife, Maureen. Star Scientific is in rough shape—they have enough money to get through early next year, but they keep having to sell more stock to pay the bills. They’re doing everything that they can to stay afloat. To that end, Maureen McDonnell went to Florida a couple of years ago, to promote their product, Anatabloc, in a talk.

I don’t know that Maureen McDonnell was promoting Anatabloc on that awkward day. (I don’t think any of the attendees were taking notes.) And I don’t have any reason to believe that doing so would have been wrong in any way. But I do think it’s a heck of an interesting coincidence, and I look forward to finding what it’s all about.

Published by Waldo Jaquith

Waldo Jaquith (JAKE-with) is an open government technologist who lives near Char­lottes­­ville, VA, USA. more »

8 replies on “Make money from home! (Even if your home is the governor’s mansion.)”

  1. So, to add to this complex weave, should we now wonder exactly what Patricia Kluge’s interest in this whole venture is/was? Did she just want to be close to power and do a favor for Gov. McDonnell? Did she have some kind of direct financial stake of her own?

  2. A great followup blog piece would be to summarize all the health benefits the recipents received from Anatabloc.

  3. This is hilarious—people showing up to pitch this stuff! I’ve mentioned various pharmaceuticals on this blog a dozen times, and yet this time, people show up within hours to talk about how swell it is. It’s almost like somebody trained this company in how to look totally sketchy.

  4. Well, if it walks like a sketchy duck…

    I noticed yesterday that you had a FOIA request rejected by AG Cooch’s office because they feel they are exempt from such things. Hmmmmm.

    Me thinks you are pulling one of MANY strands in the fraying sweater that is VA’s current leadership. I would bet that Cooch and the scapegoated chef at the Gov’s mansion will factor in before this is through.

    So, any moment you should either get a post from Chuck Norris spinning the virtues of Antabloc or IPublius telling us all how stupid we are for looking behind the curtain.

    Please keep us posted as you wade thru the “ludicrosity” ( thanks Don King ) of these oh so honorable elected officials.

  5. With a few minutes’ googling, I’ve discovered that Mary is also known as “Joan,” and spends a lot of time writing comments about how great antabatine is. (That turns out to be the chemical is the the basis of Anatabloc.) And Adam spends a lot of time writing about antabatine and Anatabloc. He claims to have “no association with Anatabloc other than being a user,” but that does nothing to explain the many dozens of comments that he’s posted or how he knows “over a hundred people on Anatabloc.” He’s so passionate about this product that he often writes its name as “Anatabloc®,” without apparent irony. He’s on it, his sister’s on it, his niece is on it and—damnedest thing—it’s cured all of their many, serious ailments. Not that he’s speaking for Anatabloc®, mind you! He’s just a fan!

    I didn’t quite understand what was going on with this company until these comments showed up and I googled for these folks’ names. Anatabloc is a bullshit “nutritional supplement”—it’s not a drug, it’s not approved by the FDA—and they can’t actually pitch it as curing or treating anything. So, instead, they’ve got these sock puppets who promote it online, with blog alerts for mentions of either the drug or various ailments, who then show up and talk about how “Anatabloc® cured that in my [sister | niece | brother | father | son | best friend’s roommate]!” Based on what these folks are claiming, too, it cures everything: MS, lupus, diabetes, obesity, arthritis, autoimmune disorders, bursitis, even Alzheimer’s disease! And they can make those claims, claims that Star Scientific can’t because, hey, they’re just random people who want to say how swell it is. So let’s say you’re down with this, and you want to buy Anatabloc. Where do you get it? Right from the website, which has been conveniently linked to in the comment! They’ll send you a trial package, no charge. But then they start sending them, and charging you. And sending them, and charging, and sending them, and charging. Good luck making it stop. The internet is full of angry people who have tried and tried to cancel, to no effect.

    (For a representative sample of the puffery, skim through any of the 763 comments after a critical blog entry about the stuff.)

    The one thing that I cannot figure out is the relationship between the folks posting these comments and Star Scientific. I can’t find any evidence that this is actually a pyramid scheme—that folks both pitch the product and pitch the business of selling the product. All sales appear to go through Star. Nor have I seen any referral links, which would allow the folks pitching it to make a referral fee. The only remaining logical conclusion is that they are paid for their time by Star, directly or indirectly, but I have no way of knowing that.

    One more mystery about this has been cleared up for me, too: how a cut-rate tobacco company got into the diet supplement business. Easy: anabatine is derived from tobacco.

    Why in the world McDonnell and Cuccinelli would be involved in this bullshittery, I cannot imagine. Star Scientific is at best half a step above a pyramid scheme. If you wanted to make a company look really sketchy, this is basically a textbook example of how to do it. The fact that they’re doing this while they’re under investigation by the FBI is especially amazing. I have to assume that they’re in dire financial straits, and are left with no choice.

  6. I noticed yesterday that you had a FOIA request rejected by AG Cooch’s office because they feel they are exempt from such things. Hmmmmm.

    The crazy thing is that it was a really boring FOIA request. Having it rejected was the least likely possible outcome. Weirder still, they delayed the response by five days (as is their legal right) in order to get back to me on the Thursday before the convention with their “FOIA doesn’t apply to us” response. Reporters called me Friday, and published stories on Sunday…the day that the convention results were on the front page. It’s the worst possible way that they could have handled it.

    I should really write a blog entry about this.

  7. Dear Waldo,

    I’m a big fan. Thanks for all that you do.

    I’ve been following the Star story quite closely from the get go. The link below will take you to an eye-opening expose:

    Like you, I’ve been inundated with comments from Star-flacks.

    It’s odd that no journalist will delve comprehensively into Mr. Williams’s fascinating business record. I’ve encouraged several reporters to so. Eminent journalist David Halberstam used to bemoan the fact that reporters infrequently provide the citizenry with adequate context.

    Keep hope alive.

    Best wishes,

    Alex Leidholdt

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