NORFOLK, Va. (WVEC) -- Hampton Roads has had its fair share of public corruption cases. Public leaders betraying voters, others in power defrauding people out of millions of dollars. All of the cases have damaged the public’s trust in its government officials.
The FBI is asking for the public’s help to continue to fight these cases.
“Public corruption is the number one priority for the FBI,” said Michael McMahon, the supervisor for the Norfolk FBI’s white collar crime squad.
Money, power and greed are what lie at the heart of many public corruption cases. It played a big role in the case of Anthony Burfoot. The former Norfolk Treasurer and city councilman is serving a six-year prison sentence for selling his votes.
“Corruption is like rust. When a person in government takes advantage for their own gain, it’s like the beginning of the deterioration of the system,” said McMahon.
Cases like Burfoot’s put Norfolk and its government under the spotlight. It also chips away at the public’s trust.
“It is my opinion, the single worst outcome of corruption. 'Why would I vote if every time I vote, they don’t pay attention, and once they get elected they commit a crime,'” said McMahon.
While power and greed may be common denominators in these cases, there’s also something else they have in common. Many of them started with just one phone call and one tip.
Two years ago, the FBI’s Norfolk Field office created a public corruption tip line. Since its inception, they say about 20 percent of the calls have led to building a case. The public corruption tip line is free and confidential.
The number is 1-844-FIGHT PC.
According to the FBI, the public’s help is crucial because without the community, many of the cases would never see the inside of a courtroom.
Public corruption is often very difficult to uncover and even harder to prove. The schemes are usually between two people, neither of which would benefit from the illegal activities being brought to light.
“Calling us doesn’t make you part of the case, it just makes you part of the solution,” said McMahon.
It was one call that took down the Bank of the Commonwealth, Hampton Roads’ very own Ponzi scheme. It was also one call that exposed Glenn Ford, a corrupt Norfolk Police detective.
“The consequences are extraordinary,” said McMahon.
The senior FBI agent says it’s important to note that there is a difference between ineffective government and corrupt officials.
In public corruption, the community is crucial, but so are the corrupt men behind the bribes. Dwight Etheridge, Ronnie Boone Sr. and Tommy Arney were the key witnesses for the prosecution in Anthony Burfoot’s trial. The developers admitted to paying Burfoot so he would vote in their favor. Without them, there probably wouldn’t have been enough evidence to convict him.
“Quite honestly, without people who are willing to testify, the cases wouldn’t be made,” said McMahon.
The Bank of the Commonwealth CEO is serving a 23-year prison sentence, Glenn Ford is in the middle of a 12-year sentence, and Burfoot just started serving his six-year punishment.
McMahon says he hopes these steep sentences will deter others to go down the same path. He also hopes these consequences will bring taxpayers to believe that there is some value in their government and that they will trust their public officials.