The following is a statement by former Delegate Phil Hamilton and then my interview with him:
"In July 2009, I was contacted by a Virginian Pilot reporter concerning my part-time employment with Old Dominion University. During that telephone interview, I acknowledged my part-time employment with the ODU Center for Educational Leadership and Teacher Quality.
One month later, in late August, and two months before the state elections were to take place, I was contacted by the FBI who requested to meet with me. During that meeting, I was informed they were investigating my employment with ODU based on the Virginian Pilot article published earlier that month. Based on the interview with the FBI, it was obvious to me that there was no complaint filed but only a newspaper article from a Norfolk-based newspaper.
Over two years later in January 2011, I was indicted by a Richmond-area Grand Jury for one count of bribery and one count of extortion under color of official right. I self-surrendered to the FBI in Newport News where I was handcuffed, transported to the Norfolk federal courthouse where I was shackled, and placed in a cell to wait over three hours for an appearance before a federal magistrate who informed me of the charges.
One week later, I appeared for my arraignment in federal court in Richmond on the charges in my indictment. I pleaded not guilty, waived the speedy trial requirement, and requested a trial by jury. The US attorney and my defense attorney estimated the trial would take approximately three weeks. Even so, the judge, because of his calendar, limited the trial to two weeks beginning on May 2, 2011.
In the government's opening statement, the US attorney acknowledged that the case was mostly a circumstantial evidence case. Circumstantial evidence relies on an inference, whether accurate or not, to connect it to the wanted conclusion as opposed to direct evidence which supports the truth of an assertion.
The government's circumstantial evidence centered on several personal emails where I indicated that an ODU official believed the university would be offering me a job during the summer of 2006. This same ODU official, with government immunity, testified that he had been pursuing me for an ODU job since 2004, and that I never asked for any job with ODU. He also testified that he had provided differing versions of testimony to multiple Grand Juries and even to the Court under direct testimony during the trial.
The government's case also referenced a budget amendment that I submitted to the Virginia budget during the 2007 legislative session to create a Center for Educational Leadership and Teacher Quality. That amendment was to create an educational center at a public school or school division in the Commonwealth.
In 2004 and 2006, I unsuccessfully submitted similar budget amendments to create such an educational center at the Newport News Public Schools' An Achievable Dream Academy. This school had a proven record of academic achievement with at-risk students, and the school's founder was interested in hosting such a training center for school administrators and teachers.
Because the House Appropriations Committee's, Elementary & Secondary Education subcommittee chairman was opposed to any funding for An Achievable Dream Academy, my 2007 budget amendment was not public school specific for hosting such a center. As a result, the amendment passed the subcommittee and full committee and was included as a House budget amendment with the General Fund (state tax generated revenue) funding designated for public, not higher education, funding.
During budget conference negotiations, the Senate Finance Committee chairman indicated that the House-approved amendment would not be included in the Budget Conference Committee's final budget amendments. This same senator testified during the trial that he had never heard of such an amendment.
From court testimony from two Senate Finance Committee staffers,.I learned that an ODU-specific amendment for such a center was submitted but not included in the Senate-approved budgret amendments. These government witnesses also testified that they, without my knowledge, had rewritten my House-approved amendment to be an ODU amendment which moved it from the Elementary & Secondary Education section to the Higher Education section of the state budget.
Knowing that my amendment was not in the Budget Conference Report and being unaware of the Senate staffers' change to my amendment which changed the appropriation of funding from public education to the higher education section of the budget document, I voted for the Budget Conference Report which included multiple budget amendments.
Even though it is my perspective that none of these and other government witnesses ever presented any testimony or direct evidence to substantiate the charges against me, the jury deliberated and found me guilty of the two counts in the indictment.
In August 2011, I was sentenced by the federal judge to 114 months in federal prison. I reported to prison in September 2011, and after serving 85% of my sentence and 15 months of federal probation, I was no longer under federal supervision as of April 2020.
While incarcerated, I filed numerous appeals primarily focusing on the ineffective assistance of counsel and due process of law pursuant to the 5th, 6th, and 14th amendments to the US Constitution. While my final appeal to the US Supreme Court was pending, the Court was also considering an appeal from former Governor Robert McDonnell. The Court even requested additional information from me about my appeal.
In the US Supreme Court opinion that ultimately overturned Governor Robert McDonnell's 11 convictions, they stated that an official act needed to specifically address the alleged action. My vote on the Budget Conference Report was not a single, specific vote on an amendment to create an educational center at ODU. Unfortunately, my pro se (written and filed by me and not an attorney) appeal to the US Supreme Court was filed prior to the McDonnell ruling and several weeks past the 90-day limit for my appeal to be filed and thereby was denied.
In spite of the injustice, I believe was imposed upon me, I bear no bitterness towards anyone. For me, there are four equal components to freedom – physical, spiritual, emotional, and mental. Throughout my experience, the government only controlled my physical freedom. I controlled my spiritual, emotional, and mental freedom. While I witnessed many others who surrendered all or a portion of the three freedoms they controlled, I refused to do so. As a result, I kept 75% of my freedom, while the government maintained its 25%.
Even so, and while the American “justice” system may be the fairest and most just judicial system in the world, below are some, not all, reforms that I believe should be considered:
• Since lawyer's opening. statements are not evidence; they should not be permitted as they provide an opportunity to poison the mind of a juror towards a defendant before any evidence has been presented.
• Guilt should be determined by DIRECT, not circumstantial, evidence. Evidence should be considered by jurors as truth not inference.
• Initial appeals should not be filed with the presiding trial judge. Often times that appeal might be based on rulings or actions by the presiding trial judge and a open mind should review the appeal.
• No witness should be granted immunity to testify. If a crime has been intentionally committed, all involved individuals should be
judged accordingly and held accountable.
• Regardless of an immunity agreement, any immunized witness who testifies to making contradictory statements while under oath should be immediately dismissed as a witness and charged with felony perjury.
• The government should not be permitted to initiate plea bargain agreements. I believe government-initiated plea agreements are used to intimidate or coerce defendants in to pleading guilty. Approximately 97% of federal convictions are the result of plea bargains. All defendants should exercise their constitutional right to a trial by jury.
• Sentencing enhancements should not be permitted after a trial has concluded. Defendants should only be sentenced for crimes specifically presented during the trial."
Part Two. My
Interview with former Delegate Hamilton:
Virginia Gentleman: Thanks for taking the time to do an interview with me. There are those that say your sentence of 114 months in jail for 2 felonies was excessive, especially compared with former Governor McDonnell’s sentence of 2 years for basically 11 counts. Do you think it was excessive?
Hamilton: My sentence was within the discretionary US sentencing guidelines. Many have questioned me about the length of my sentence. My response was that given the facts, not circumstances, of the case, the sentence was extreme. It is hard to intellectually understand the sentencing discrepancy between my case and that of Gov. McDonnell. McDonnell had 5 times the convictions, and I received 5 times the sentence. I will leave it to others to explain the justice in that. In my pre-sentencing report done by the US Probation Dept, it was stated that my case had ZERO victims, but that didn't matter much to the judge in my case.
Virginia Gentleman: Some have argued that the Feds, under former President Obama, wanted to go after Virginia politicians. Do you think there might be some truth to that and that you were targeted?
Hamilton: As far as being targeted, I believe that to be true. I did not hide the fact that I was employed by ODU. My employer, NN Public Schools, knew. I listed my ODU employment every applicable year on my Statement of Economic Interests which many media outlets FOIAed every year. I included my ODU W-2 forms on all applicable tax years when filing my federal and state taxes. As a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, I am sure I made plenty of political opponents over the years.
Virginia Gentleman: Was anyone else convicted with you? It seems that more than one person would have been involved in what the Feds alleged.
Hamilton: No one else was convicted with me. Two ODU officials were given immunity to testify against me. From my perspective, neither ODU witness ever claimed I had bribed or extorted anyone.
Virginia Gentleman: You claimed you had no criminal or corrupt intent. What did you mean by that:
Hamilton: Because I contend that I committed no crimes, the question of criminal intent never entered my mind in introducing any legislation that I ever submitted. As a public school educator who worked in professional development for Newport News Public Schools, I had created a successful Leadership Academy for Aspiring School Principals that focused on the ISLLC standards which are now known as the Professional Standards for Educational Leaders. At the request of the now deceased former State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Dr. William Bosher, I successfully introduced legislation to create an Educational Leadership Reform Commission that recommended numerous possible state initiatives to improve educational leadership in the public schools of Virginia. I also successfully introduced legislation related to standards for educational leaders. My efforts to create an educational center at An Achievable Dream Academy or any other public school or school division that met certain criteria was an extension of my service as chairman of the Educational Leadership Reform Commission. In spiute of my criminal conviction, I stand by my professional and legislative careers as direct evidence that none of my actions were ever done with any criminal intent.
Virginia Gentleman: What did you think of the job the media did on reporting your case?
Hamilton: Other than several pre-indictment and pre-trial news articles that claimed I had lobbied other legislators for an amendment that created the Center for Educational Leadership and Teacher Quality at ODU, I was pleased with the media coverage my trial received. During the trial, the government never produced evidence or a witness that indicated I had done anything to promote an amendment for ODU. Even the state senator that put in the ODU amendment that failed to be included in the Senate's budget proposal testified that he never spoke to me about his amendment and had no knowledge of the amendment I submitted.
Virginia Gentleman: Do you think prison changed you?
Hamilton: The only changes that I have experienced from my prison experiences have been a disillusionment with the American federal judicial system and the reality of prison. From my perspective the federal judicial system is less concerned with justice (truth) and more concerned with convictions. The Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure are developed and?or amended by the US Supreme Court. Having lifetime appointed justices decide on the “rules” to be followed in federal criminal cases seems like “the hen watching the hen house.” Given my experience, I find it difficult to see this as anything but one set of non-accountable government officials making rules for other non-accountable government officials. While no system of justice can be 100% accurate, I previously mentioned some reforms that I believe could make the current system more just and fairer. I have a much better understanding and appreciation for those who have raised concerns about the American criminal justice system.
Virginia Gentleman: What is your view of the federal prison system?
the GED educational program should also be eligible for this “good time” credit. Such incentives would still require inmates to serve a minimum of 65% of their sentence and, quite possibly, reduce the current recidivism rates among those released from prison, While incarcerated at the Fort Dix Camp facility, I earned a Landscaping Technician certificate from the Department of Labor. Throughout my incarceration, I stayed active by working in horticulture and landscaping jobs. Prison should be an opportunity for real rehabilitation rather than just the useless warehousing of individuals.
Virginia Gentleman: What are you doing now?
Hamilton: Currently, I am enjoying life as a fixed income retiree. I play plenty of golf, spend time with friends and family, read, tend to my spiritual, emotional, physical, and mental health, and follow the politics of the day. I have been honored to share my insights with a few community and political groups. All-in-all, I am blessed.
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