Special Report: A Change of Heart

Phil Hamilton. WAVY Photo.

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Two politicians convicted for corruption. One went to prison and one did not.

The change of heart comes from former Governor Bob McDonnell for things he said when another politician, former Newport News Delegate Phil Hamilton, got indicted, convicted and sentenced for public corruption.

When McDonnell went through four years of investigation, indictment, conviction, and appeals, York County resident Meredith Archer felt horrible for McDonnell’s children. She knew exactly what they were going through, because she went through it herself. Her father is convicted former Delegate Hamilton.

Back on August 12, 2011, 10 On Your Side asked Hamilton in his sadness what has he discovered.

“How grounded I am… my family,” he said, choking back tears.

Hamilton said that right before federal Judge Henry Hudson handed down a nine-and-a-half-year sentence for bribery and extortion.

“What upsets him the most, my children might never know him, like really know him, so I get most upset about that,” Archer said with tears rolling down her cheeks.

Hamilton first reported to the Fort Dix Prison Camp in New Jersey, and then he was transferred in February to the Schuylkill Prison in Pennsylvania after he was violently attacked while he slept.

“He was hit with a pad lock in a sock, and it is totally dark in there, so he didn’t know who attacked him.”

The Hamilton family and McDonnell’s family have a lot in common: Both are convicted of federal felony crimes, and both fault over-reaching federal prosecution. Hamilton is serving hard time, while McDonnell never spent a day in prison, although he was sentenced to two years before charges against him were dropped.

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Archer is disappointed in McDonnell.

“I think he has been unfair, and I think he would say he’s been unfair,” she said.

Indeed, McDonnell admits he’s been unfair in how he handled early comments against Hamilton and his legal plight against the federal government.

“I jumped to conclusions about media reports, and only because of media reports, and I regret that and that is not fair,” McDonnell said.

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In August 2009, Hamilton first learned of federal and state investigations that he used his elected position in the General Assembly to get $500,000 for an educational program at ODU, and then took a $40,000 a year job to run the program.

Prosecutors would argue that is classic quid pro quo: You give me this and I’ll give you that. 10 On Your Side asked Hamilton about that in 2009.

“Obviously, this stack of emails [over 500 of them sat on a picnic table in a park where we met for the interview] indicate there were emails prior, during, and after the legislative session [concerning the money for the program and the job] and I apologize for that,” he said.

Those emails helped convict Hamilton showing he wanted something for his legislative services. When the story was breaking and before Hamilton was indicted, McDonnell was running for governor at the time, and a former Hamilton colleague in the House of Delegates was the first to call on Hamilton to resign.  Andy Fox asked McDonnell about that.

“It’s not fair. I do regret that. I knew Phil and I thought he was a very fine legislator,” the former governor said.

Archer was also stung by McDonnell’s comments about Hamilton’s sentence.

“He applauded the sentence, and said this type of behavior isn’t accepted in the Commonwealth or in politics.”

Archer didn’t know this at the time, but when McDonnell said that, he was in the throes of what would become a federal investigation involving Jonnie Williams.

“I keep going back and he’s making all of these statements while he is collecting money from Jonnie Williams, and Jonnie is paying for his daughter’s wedding, and he is getting a Rolex, and he is going around in a sports car,” Archer said.

Archer also shared that when she got married  on February 6, 2010, shortly after her father lost his bid for re-election in 2009, after McDonnell was elected governor, and before the indictments, which they knew were coming, her father said.

“He looked at me and he didn’t have any money, and he gave us all he could, which was $1,000, because of mounting legal costs he knew were coming,” Archer says.

It would take McDonnell going to the Supreme Court of the United States to get back his freedom, and in that experience, a change of heart for Hamilton.

“He took a $40,000 a year job. He actually worked for the money. What he did in the Appropriations Committee is a matter of fact, and it appeared to me his sentence was excessive,” McDonnell said.

McDonnell thinks Hamilton is a perfect example in the federal court system of punishment not fitting the crime

Archer adds, “McDonnell has reached out to us recently.”

Archer says through emails, McDonnell has reached out asking, “How he can help?”

“We answered, ‘We have the need of your legal expertise because none of us are lawyers. I’m not a lawyer, my dad’s not a lawyer. We need your legal expertise, or your contacts that could possibly be helpful.'”

Archer says there has been no further communication past that.

A letter was written to former President Barack Obama to commute Phil Hamilton’s sentence before Obama left office. Hamilton has already served nearly six years. Obama did not grant the commutation for time served.

Phil Hamilton is scheduled to go to a halfway house in June 2019, and full release in December 2019.

Former Governor Bob McDonnell got his law license back, has rejoined his old law firm, is working with his sister in a consulting firm, is a consultant with the company trying to get financing for the proposed Virginia Beach arena and he will teach courses at Regent University beginning in March.