Phillip A. Hamilton, former Virginia legislator, sentenced

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - A former high-ranking Virginia legislator was sentenced Friday to 9½ years in prison for bribery and extortion.

The sentence was three years less than what federal prosecutors wanted for Phillip A. Hamilton, 59, of Newport News. U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson gave Hamilton credit for serving 20 years as the General Assembly's foremost champion of the mentally disabled, but scolded him for betraying the public trust.

Before the sentence was handed down, Hamilton tearfully apologized for his actions.

"All my life I have attempted to live my life by the standards of truth, honesty and integrity," Hamilton said, his voice choked with emotion. "Today, I'm here to again publicly apologize for my mistakes and ask the court to consider a punishment that allows me to continue to contribute to society."

U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride told reporters after the hearing that the sentence, while lighter than what prosecutors wanted, still will be a "significant deterrent" to public corruption.

Hamilton was vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee when he solicited a job as director of a teacher training center he helped create at Old Dominion University with $500,000 in taxpayer money. The Republican lawmaker was hired as the center's part-time director for $40,000 a year.

A jury convicted Hamilton in May. Hamilton's lawyer, Andrew Sacks, reiterated in court Friday that he plans to appeal the convictions to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Sacks argued for a modest sentence for Hamilton, citing the Republican's previously clean record and his long record of legislative service focusing on mental health and education.

He described Hamilton as "a man of extraordinary achievement" who was so enthusiastic about establishing the teacher training center and helping it succeed that he lost sight of ethical boundaries.

But Justice Department attorney David Harbach said Hamilton didn't just accept a bribe - he initiated it, then tried to cover it up when people started asking questions about his ties to ODU.

"The facts of this case, they go far, far beyond 'the defendant should have known better.' The defendant did know better," Harbach said. "He absolutely knew what he was doing and went through with it anyway."

Hudson heard from seven character witnesses, including two former legislators, who described Hamilton as ethical and honest.

The judge allowed Hamilton to remain free until reporting to prison Sept. 19.