The bribery and extortion trial of a powerful former member of the Virginia House of Delegates is scheduled to begin today in a Richmond courtroom.
Federal authorities allege former Del. Phillip A. Hamilton sought a job at Norfolk’s Old Dominion University in exchange for obtaining state funding for the school.
Hamilton, 59, was, indicted in January after federal authorities say he and ODU officials agreed in 2006 that he would be hired as director of the new Center for Teacher Quality and Educational Leadership if he arranged for state funding to help launch the center, which trained urban school teachers.
Authorities also say that Hamilton, tried to hide the relationship and asked an ODU official to falsely say that he was the center’s director instead of Hamilton - a year after Hamilton had been hired.
Hamilton, a 21-year Republican veteran from Newport News, was one of the most powerful members of the House before he was defeated in 2009 after news of the federal investigation became public.
As a budget negotiator and vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Hamilton was one of the few legislators who helped determine how billions in state money were spent.
Jury selection is set to begin this morning. U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson will preside over the trial, which could last one to two weeks.
The witness list includes state Sen. Harry B. Blevins (R-Chesapeake) , former state Sen. John H. Chichester, (R-Northumberland), former Del. Vincent F. Callahan (R-Fairfax) and the former and current president of Old Dominion University.
Exhibits include e-mails between Hamilton and his wife, Kim, which Hudson ruled could be included but have not yet been seen by the public.
Federal authorities say that Hamilton met with ODU officials in August 2006 to discuss the possibility of obtaining tax dollars to launch the center. They say he then repeatedly reminded university officials that he wanted the director’s job and indicated how much he wanted to be paid, including in e-mails sent just before the 2007 legislative session convened.
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, federal authorities said. Hamilton was hired although he never applied for the job and was paid $80,000 over two years.
If he is found guilty, he could face up to 30 years in prison.
Hamilton’s case prompted a flurry of new laws last year by legislators to strengthen state ethics rules.