RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - The former dean of education at Old Dominion University said Tuesday that the school's president in 2006 directed him to hire the state legislator who was working to secure funding for a teacher training center.
William Graves testified at the bribery and extortion trial of former Del. Phillip Hamilton of Newport News, who is accused of arranging funding for the center in exchange for a job as its director. Hamilton, the Republican vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, sponsored a budget amendment that generated $500,000 to establish the center. He subsequently was hired as the center's part-time director at $40,000 a year.
Graves testified that he met with Roseann Runte, who then was president of ODU, university official David Blackburn and Hamilton in August 2006 to discuss plans for the center. He said that after Hamilton left the meeting, Runte told him and Blackburn: "That man wants a job. Make him director or something."
Graves said he nodded and said, "Yes, ma'am."
Runte, now president of Carleton University in Canada, has given a videotaped deposition that will be shown to the jury in U.S. District Court later in the trial.
Graves and Blackburn also testified Tuesday that they tried to hide the truth from House of Delegates ethics investigators who began looking into the arrangement after newspapers published stories about Hamilton's involvement with the center that he created with taxpayer money.
"I minimized my role in hiring Phil Hamilton," Graves said. He said he did so in a "cowardly" attempt to protect himself from any other investigation that might arise.
"All along I felt like this wasn't the right thing to do," he said of the hiring of Hamilton.
However, he said he never shared his concerns with Runte because she had ignored his views in the past.
"It was like words in the wind -- it made no difference," Graves said.
Blackburn, who testified on the trial's opening day that Hamilton was hired solely because of his role in securing the funding, admitted under cross-examination Tuesday that he had lied not only to the House ethics panel but also to federal investigators and two grand juries. Blackburn said he even lied in a lawsuit in which he accuses Graves and other ODU officials of blaming him for the hiring of Hamilton.
Blackburn, the former head of ODU's Program for Research and Evaluation in Public Schools, previously testified that he had lied about being the director of the center. He said that at the urging of Hamilton, he told a Senate Finance Committee staff member that he was the center's director when committee members visited ODU to learn more about that project and others funded by the General Assembly.
Federal prosecutors have given both Graves and Blackburn immunity in exchange for their testimony. At one point Tuesday, Blackburn said the agreement meant he had to toe the government's line in the case against Hamilton, but he later said the deal required him to simply tell the truth.
Current ODU president John Broderick, who was a vice president during the time of Hamilton's hiring, testified that he did not know the legislator was working at the center until the university received Freedom of Information Act requests from local news media seeking emails and other documents pertaining to the arrangement. Broderick said he and other ODU officials had a conference call with Hamilton, and all agreed it would be best for the university and Hamilton to sever ties.
That decision, Broderick said, "was based on the impropriety of how the position was obtained."
Hamilton's attorney, Andrew Sacks, noted that one ODU official said the first request for information came from the Democratic Party of Virginia, but Broderick testified that the university did not receive a FOIA request from the party. In his resignation letter, Hamilton said he was stepping down "so the good work of the center is not tarnished by a contentious political campaign."
Hamilton lost his re-election bid amid reports about his arrangement with ODU, ending a 21-year legislative career.
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