Former Virginia delegate Hamilton indicted on bribery charges

Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, January 5, 2011; 8:41 PM

RICHMOND - A powerful former member of the Virginia House of Delegates was indicted Wednesday on charges of bribery and extortion, as federal authorities allege that he sought a job at Norfolk's Old Dominion University in exchange for obtaining state funding for the school.

According to the indictment, issued by a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia, Phillip A. Hamilton and ODU officials agreed in 2006 that Hamilton 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, 58, 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.

Hamilton's attorney Andrew Sacks said that his client "strongly denies the accusations of bribery and extortion leveled against him today by federal prosecutors."

"Phil's record of 21 years of service in the Virginia General Assembly is well established," Sacks said. "Phil was always known as a man of principle, incorruptible and passionate about doing the right thing for his constituents. The accusations against Phil are utterly inconsistent with his character that has been widely recognized over those 21 years of service."

Hamilton did not return a call seeking comment.

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.

House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) said that the grand jury indictment "reflects the seriousness with which I and others viewed the alleged offenses."

"How a public official performs his or her governmental duties must be above reproach and unquestionably within the bounds of law," he said.

Hamilton's case prompted a flurry of new laws last year by legislators to strengthen state ethics rules.

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