RICHMOND—— In the summer of 2006, one of Virginia's most influential lawmakers was hurting for cash.
Emails between Del. Phil Hamilton and his wife, Kim, show that the couple's bank accounts were nearly drained. They couldn't write any more checks or withdraw money.
But potential good news loomed on the horizon: Hamilton told his wife he was headed to Old Dominion University and he expected an employment opportunity to come up.
The job wasn't being advertised. No applicants were being sought. In fact, the job didn't even exist. But Hamilton saw a way to create it, and it played to his strengths.
As a powerful state legislator who exercised influence over the state budget, he would push to fund a teacher training center at ODU. Meanwhile, he would ask to be the center's director, using legitimate expertise he had developed over the years as a Newport News school employee and an education-oriented lawmaker.
He creates the center. ODU hires him. Quid pro quo – the Latin phrase that means "this for that."
That scenario is at the heart of the government's case against Hamilton, who is on trial in U.S. District Court on charges of bribery and extortion.
U.S attorneys Robert J. Seidel Jr. and Robert Harbach have introduced emails into evidence, many between Hamilton and ODU officials that show he was seeking funding for the training center at the same time that he was inquiring about becoming its director.
"Phil Hamilton had a problem," Harbach said in his opening statement last week. "But he also saw an opportunity."
The first key meeting occurred on Aug. 16, 2006, the day Hamilton told his wife he was headed to ODU about a job.
He met with ODU's then-president, Roseann Runte, dean of education William Graves and David Blackburn, another university employee. Hamilton expressed his support for the center, and after he left the meeting, Runte turned to the two men.
According to Graves, she said: "That man wants a job. Make him director or something."
Runte has strongly denied ever saying that – at that meeting or at any other time.
"There was no promise," she said in a videotaped deposition. "I never promised anything."
Hamilton later emailed his wife that the meeting went well and that he "reinforced the idea" that he needed to bring in $6,000 per month if and when the job came up.
"I was told ODU president was interested — but she never mentioned it," the email read.
Norfolk attorney Andrew Sacks, representing Hamilton, has admitted that his client showed poor judgment, and that some might find his actions offensive, an ethical breach or a conflict of interest.
But that's not the issue in U.S. District Court, where Judge Henry Hudson is presiding over the jury trial. Nowhere does Hamilton specifically say that he must have the job in exchange for sponsoring the funding – nor has anyone testified to such a conversation.
But Harbach said that coercion or conditionality is not the standard. The government needs to prove a relationship of "I will do this. You will do that," he said.