— The prosecution offered closing arguments Tuesday in the federal bribery/extortion trial of Phil Hamilton, saying the evidence against the former state lawmaker "reeks" of wrongdoing.
Hamilton is accused of parlaying his legislative influence into a part-time $40,000-a-year job at Old Dominion University in 2006 and 2007. He resigned from the job two years later when media reports brought it to light. He later lost his reelection bid, ending a 21-year career in the House of Delegates.
U.S. Attorney Robert Seidel walked the jury through highlights of six days of testimony, focusing on a series of emails between Hamilton and various ODU officials during the time in question.
Those show, without a doubt, that Hamilton sought funding to create a teacher training center at ODU while inquiring about a job at the center, Seidel said.
"The evidence reeks of solicitation," he said. "It's overwhelming."
Hamilton has long admitted to making a mistake in judgment – he apologized again Tuesday while on the witness stand – but denies any criminal intent.
Hamilton's attorney, Andrew Sacks of Norfolk, is scheduled to make his closing argument Wednesday morning. Then the case will go to the jury.
Sacks has argued that nowhere in the long list of emails does Hamilton ever threaten or coerce ODU.
Seidel said that's not necessary to prove corrupt intent. He focused the jury's attention on a series of email exchanges in December 2006, shortly before the 2007 legislative session where Hamilton pushed to fund the center.
"It's going to be very subtle," he said. "It's going to be implicit. A lot of winks. A lot of nods."
During an exchange with former ODU employee David Blackburn, Hamilton passes on information about the budget amendment he will sponsor on behalf of the center, and he also includes a specific salary request.
"There it is," Siedel said.
After getting the information from Hamilton, Blackburn replies: "I believe (the General Assembly) will fund and you will be on board."
Earlier in the day, the prosecution rested its case by attempting to show that Hamilton was reluctant to publicize emails that could be potentially damaging.
Hamilton did not release emails related to his job scandal despite being advised by two attorneys to conduct a broad search of his records in response to Freedom of Information Act requests, according to testimony.
It happened during the summer of 2009 as the controversy surfaced through media reports. Hamilton soon found himself facing requests for documents under the Freedom of Information Act.
He first sought advice through the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council about an FOIA request from the Democratic Party of Virginia.
A staff attorney for the council suggested he turn over all material in any email account as long as it pertained to the transaction of public business.
Hamilton concluded that he should search his official legislative email account – which contained nothing of significance — but not his account at Newport News public schools, where he worked part-time.
The emails in his school account "were not in the transaction of public business," Hamilton testified.
Yet prosecutors used those emails to build a foundation for their case, eventually seizing scores of messages after executing a search warrant at Hamilton's school office.
Also in the summer of 2009, Hamilton received an email from an ODU attorney, notifying him to turn over information that related to the issue "wherever they may be" because the university planned to release information.
Hamilton replied via email: "I do not have any records."
That drew an incredulous response from David Harbach, the U.S. attorney who spent hours questioning Hamilton on the stand.
Harbach noted that, by this time, the scandal had surfaced in the media and Hamilton had received two FOIA requests, one from the Democrats and one from the Daily Press.
"Your testimony is you don't remember whether you searched your Newport News Public Schools account?" Harbach asked.
He asked if Hamilton avoided searching his Newport News account because he knew he'd find damaging material.
"I don't think the emails are damaging or incriminatory to my reputation," Hamilton answered.
Hamilton has tried to cultivate a different image of how he responded to the controversy — that he was out front and open about his job at ODU, and that when the scandal broke, he tried to address it up front.
Hamilton has said he personally released a stack of emails to the Daily Press and Virginia Gazette.
That's true, but those emails came from ODU, Harbach pointed out.