A powerful former member of the Virginia House of Delegates will be sentenced for bribery and extortion Friday after he was convicted of soliciting a job at Norfolk’s Old Dominion University after obtaining state funding for the school.
Federal prosecutors want Phillip A. Hamilton to serve 12.5 years to 15.5 years in prison, saying he “has shown no respect for the law and betrayed a trust placed in him both by the citizens of this commonwealth and his fellow legislators.”
But Hamilton’s attorney, Andrew Sacks, said that 6.5 to 8 years would be a more appropriate range based on the salary he received from ODU, though he is arguing for less time because of his client’s service to the community.
Hamilton’s “long lifetime of achievement and service, honest government, good-faith contributions to the citizens of the commonwealth” should equate to a lesser sentence, Sacks wrote.
Hamilton, a 21-year Republican veteran from Newport News who was vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, had been one of the most influential members of the House before he was defeated in 2009 after news of the federal investigation became public.
Technically, he faces up to 10 years in prison for bribery and up to 20 years in prison for extortion.
U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson will sentence Hamilton, 59, Friday in a Richmond courtroom.
Hudson, former commonwealth attorney of Arlington County, a U.S. attorney for Virginia and director of the U.S. Marshals Service, has in recent years sent quarterback Michael Vick to prison for operating a dogfighting ring and struck down part of the federal health-care law.
A federal jury took four hours in May to convict Hamilton, who had been hired as the part-time director of the Center for Teacher Quality and Educational Leadership after arranging for taxpayer money to help launch the facility, which trained urban school teachers.
Hamilton, then a part-time employee of the Newport News school system, met with ODU officials in 2006 when he was having money problems to discuss the possibility of obtaining state money to launch the center. He repeatedly reminded them that he wanted the director’s job and indicated how much he wanted to be paid.
Hamilton then sponsored a $1 million amendment to the state budget to fund the center. The university was ultimately awarded $500,000.
Although three other candidates applied for the job, none were interviewed. Hamilton was hired, although he did not apply. He was paid about $80,000 between 2007 and 2009.
On the witness stand, Hamilton denied that he offered to get state funds for the center in exchange for a job. He said he was interested in a position at the center before funding was granted as a way to replace income he would be losing in 2007.
Hamilton had tried to hide the relationship by asking an ODU official to falsely say that he was the center’s director instead of Hamilton, unsuccessfully attempting to persuade school officials not to release incriminating e-mails in response to a Freedom of Information Act request and telling ODU officials not to mention his name in connection with the center to legislative staff.
Hamilton is appealing the verdict, and had remained free on bond until the sentencing hearing.
His case has riveted state officials and lobbyists in Richmond, where Hamilton’s former colleagues have been meeting on and off throughout the spring and summer in a special legislative session. Witnesses included former and current legislators.
Hamilton’s case prompted a flurry of new state laws to strengthen state ethics rules.