Defense team: Burfoot never solicited special treatment for developers

13News Now Marcella Robertson has the latest on the case.

NORFOLK, Va. (WVEC) -- As Anthony Burfoot's defense team continued to make its way through its extensive witness list, his attorneys kept hammering in their argument and point: that Burfoot never solicited any special treatment for developers in Norfolk.

Burfoot, who is the current city treasurer, is accused accepting nearly half a million dollars in bribes from three developers while he was on Norfolk City Council.

Prosecutors said the amount was at least $475,000 and that the bribes and kickbacks came between 2005 and 2011.

Bruce Gordon, a junior partner in Tivest Development and Construction, took the stand Tuesday. He testified that he never knew Burfoot to be a founding member of Tivest or to be involved with the development group.

When questioned by the prosecution, however, Gordon stated that Tivest's former president Dwight Etheridge told him Burfoot was a silent partner in the company.

"He heard that from a witness who, unfortunately, has a felony record, whose testimony in this trial I do not think is credible," said defense attorney Andrew Sacks, dismissing the account of Etheridge. "If that's the source people are relying upon, then we're not concerned."

Gordon also said he saw Tivest contractors working on Burfoot's home, contradicting the testimony Burfoot's sister, Lisa Smith, provided Monday.

Smith stated that she saw Burfoot doing renovations on the home, himself.

Dwight Etheridge claimed Tivest  worked on Burfoot's house for free in order to maintain the business relationship Etheridge had with the former vice mayor.

The current and former directors of the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority testified Burfoot was involved heavily with the Broad Creek Villas project and was passionate about the development. That passion even translated into Burfoot selecting the colors of doors and mailboxes.

The directors added, however, that Burfoot never pushed for special treatment for Tivest or any other developer.

The prosecution countered, painting Burfoot's involvement in the project as controlling and inappropriate.

The testimony Tuesday came a day after more than one dozen people testified on Burfoot's behalf.

The city attorney and the deputy city attorney who dealt with Tommy Arney -- one of the developers accusing Burfoot of taking bribes -- said Burfoot never asked them to give Arney special consideration for anything.

City Manager Marcus Jones took the stand on what was his last day at work in Norfolk before he assumes the position of city manager in Charlotte.

Jones' testimony echoed that of the city attorney and deputy city attorney. He said Burfoot's actions never were inappropriate and that Burfoot never sought special treatment for anyone.

Jones declined to talk about his testimony, but he shared his thoughts as he heads to his new job.

"I can't talk about that," said Jones, referring to the testimony, "but I can talk about the city I love. I'm going to miss all of you and my team Norfolk...everyone has been great to me."

As part of her testimony, Burfoot's sister told the jury that in August of this year, Etheridge's brother, Curtis, visited her at her job and told her he was sorry for the mess, and he didn't know why Etheridge dragged Burfoot into it because he had nothing to do with it.

The prosecution fired back at many of these witnesses, saying they were there to testify only because they didn't want to see Burfoot get into any trouble.

The defense first began calling several high-profile witnesses on November 22.

Former mayor Paul Fraim, Councilwoman Angelia Williams Graves, and Delegate Daun Sessoms Hester who previously served on city council all took the stand that day.

The defense started presenting its case after prosecutors rested earlier in the day.

Fraim, Williams Graves, and Sessoms Hester said Burfoot never asked them to give any developers special treatment.

On November 21, developer Tommy Arney admitted to bribing Burfoot, in hopes of opening a strip club. He told the court the mother of Burfoot's children was supposed to get $25,000 to help pay for a condo.

Now, there are more allegations against an elected official. This time, it involves Norfolk's sheriff, Bob McCabe. Our partners at The Virginian-Pilot report businessman Ronnie Boone Sr. says he bribed the sheriff.

On January 8, 2016, Burfoot was arrested and escorted to the Norfolk Federal Courthouse in Downtown Norfolk. A 32-page indictment listed the charges against Burfoot, including perjury and wire fraud. Investigators said he used his official position to solicit gifts and payments.

Prosecutors said Burfoot received nearly half a million dollars in kickbacks and bribes during his time on city council. Prosecutors argue Burfoot took bribes from the now non-existent company, Tivest Development and Construction.

In 2015, the Justice Department issued subpoenas into the Burfoot office’s dealings with the defunct development company. Tivest’s former vice president, Recardo Lewis, was sentenced in 2013 to 50 months in prison for conspiracy to commit bank fraud as part of the $71 million Bank of the Commonwealth fraud trial.

The charges also stem from Burfoot’s relationship with former Tivest president, Dwight Etheridge, who was sentenced to more than four years in prison on fraud-related charges. Etheridge was found guilty after a lengthy, 10-week jury trial on May 24, 2013.

Burfoot’s name came up during that trial, when another developer, Tommy Arney, testified that then-Vice Mayor Burfoot pledged city council votes to approved a downtown strip club.

Burfoot denied that allegation back then, telling 13News Now, “I’ve never had a conversation with Mr. Arney as it relates to that.”

According to a federal indictment, between March 2004 and December 2014, Ronald Boone, Anthony Burfoot and other individuals conspired with each other to scheme and defraud the citizens of Norfolk through bribery.

The indictment also states that Boone secretly provided cash, gifts, and other things of value to Anthony Burfoot in exchange for Burfoot to perform specific official actions and other official actions on an as-needed basis.

Burfoot's own trial began on Monday, November 7, and is expected to last several weeks. Burfoot’s attorney said at a motions hearing last month that he has more witnesses than normal in his defense.

Former developer Dwight Etheridge, who is currently serving a four-year prison sentence, testified against Burfoot, claiming he received hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash over the course of several years from Burfoot. 

Meanwhile, a petition to recall Burfoot has been certified, but The Virginian-Pilot reports a recall trial has been delayed until after the criminal trial is complete.

If Burfoot is convicted of all charges, he could face up to 100 years in prison, although it is likely he would receive a lesser sentence.

 


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