Former delegate sentenced to prison for bribery, extortion - NBC12 - WWBT - Richmond, VA News On Your Side

Former delegate sentenced to prison for bribery, extortion

WASHINGTON – Phillip A. Hamilton, a former member of the Virginia House of Delegates, was sentenced today to 114 months in prison after he was previously convicted of soliciting employees of Old Dominion University (ODU) for a paid position in exchange for introducing a budget amendment to fund the position, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department's Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Neil H. MacBride for the Eastern District of Virginia.

"Phillip Hamilton traded on his influence in one of the oldest legislative bodies in the United States for a paid position at Old Dominion University, netting himself approximately $80,000 over two years," said Assistant Attorney General Breuer.  "Today he learned that betraying the trust of Virginia's citizens and his fellow legislators has a much higher price.  For his acts of bribery and extortion, he will now spend 114 months in prison – an example to public officials and the electorate that the Justice Department will vigorously pursue those who abuse their public office.  The Criminal Division's Public Integrity Section and our partners in the U.S. Attorneys' Offices are committed to rooting out self-dealing by public officials and holding them accountable when they misuse their positions for personal gain."

"Today is a sad day in the history of the Commonwealth," said U.S. Attorney MacBride. "Phil Hamilton used his powerful influence as a 20-year state legislator to extort officials at ODU and became the first elected legislator in Virginia to be convicted of selling his position for personal gain. We hope his conviction and sentence will serve as a reminder to every elected official in the Commonwealth that they must uphold the public's trust or face similar consequences."

U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson also ordered Hamilton, 59, to serve two years of supervised release following his prison term and directed him to self surrender to authorities on or before Sept. 19, 2011.  Hamilton was convicted by a jury in Richmond, Va., on May 11, 2011, of one count of federal program bribery and one count of extortion under color of official right. 

Hamilton was elected in 1988 to represent the 93rd District in the Virginia House of Delegates, which includes Newport News and James City County, Va.  As part of his duties, Hamilton sat on the Elementary & Secondary Education Subcommittee of the Virginia House Appropriations Committee.

According to the Jan. 5, 2011, indictment and evidence presented at trial, from August 2006 through February 2007, Hamilton solicited employees of ODU for a position as director for the ODU Center for Teacher Quality and Educational Leadership.  The center's objective was to train teachers for success in urban school environments.  During this period, Hamilton simultaneously introduced a budget amendment that would establish and fund the center, including his salary as the director.

According to an email that Hamilton sent to an ODU official on Dec. 21, 2006, which was admitted as evidence at trial, Hamilton stated that the current budget did not include any funding for the center, his retirement payments from another source were being reduced in May 2007, and he would need to supplement his current income.  Evidence at trial showed that an ODU official assured Hamilton in December 2006 and January 2007 that if ODU obtained funding from the Virginia General Assembly for the creation of the center, then Hamilton would have a job at the center.  During this same period, in January 2007, Hamilton introduced a budget amendment in the House of Delegates to appropriate $1 million in fiscal year 2007-2008 (July 1, 2007 – June 30, 2008) for a "Center for Teacher Quality and Educational Leadership."  The amendment passed the full committee unanimously. 

On Feb. 24, 2007, after a conference between the Virginia house and senate that resulted in an amendment to appropriate $500,000 to ODU for the center – for which Hamilton voted in favor - the budget bill was passed.  The next day, according to evidence at trial, Hamilton and ODU officials exchanged emails about Hamilton receiving the director job.  Approximately three people applied in response to a job posting for the position; however, none of them were interviewed.  Hamilton, who was awarded the job, never submitted an application.

In June 2007, Hamilton and an ODU official signed an employee contract indicating, among other things, that Hamilton would direct the center and seek continual funding for the center.  The contract also stated that Hamilton would be paid $40,000 per year.  From approximately July 2007 through July 2009, Hamilton collected approximately $80,000 from ODU.

Evidence at trial showed that Hamilton took numerous steps to conceal this arrangement, including telling ODU officials not to mention his name in connection with the center to members of the Virginia Senate Finance Committee; advising an ODU official to tell a Virginia senate staffer that the official, and not Hamilton, was the director of the center; and unsuccessfully attempting to persuade ODU leadership not to release incriminating emails in response to a Freedom of Information Act request that ODU had received.

The case was prosecuted by Trial Attorney David V. Harbach II of the Criminal Division's Public Integrity Section and Supervisory Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert J. Seidel Jr. of the Eastern District of Virginia.  The case was investigated by the FBI.  

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