Norfolk Treasurer Grilled by Prosecution in Corruption Trial

By JOCELYN RARDIN

NORFOLK, Va. (CN) – Norfolk City Treasurer Anthony Burfoot took the stand for the second time in his corruption trial on Monday, telling the jury that payments he received just before a city council vote on a development project was money due him and nothing more.

“One had nothing to do with the other,” he said under cross-examination by Assistant U.S. Attorney Melissa O’Boyle.

Burfoot, 49, is one trial in federal court on eight felony charges. The government claims he solicited nearly $500,000 in bribes and kickbacks from developers over a five-year period.

In exchange, prosecutors say, Burfoot, who was a city councilman and deputy city treasurer at the time, helped or promised to help the men get favorable votes and other approvals for their projects.

Burfoot was last on the stand Dec. 1, when, during questioning by his defense attorney, Andrew Sacks, he told the jury he never asked for or accepted bribes.

“I’m not guilty,” he said.

On Monday, prosecutors focused on the timing of a $1,000 payment Burfoot received from developer Dwight Etheridge a week before the city council voted to give Etheridge’s company, Tivest Development & Construction, almost $1 million in public property.

Burfoot said Etheridge was a childhood friend and that the developer gave him the money to fulfill a promise to pay for repairs on a used Mercedes he had sold the official.

O’Boyle seized on the statement to asked Burfoot whether it was true that while he claimed to have bought the Mercedes for $20,000 he had in fact gotten it for nothing.

Burfoot said this was not true.

Throughout the morning, the city treasurer said repeatedly that he never took bribes and that while he was on the city council, from 2002 to 2013, he always voted for what he thought was in the best interest of the city.

O’Boyle then turned her attention to a $10,000 cashier’s check Burfoot “loaned” to developer Dwight Etheridge to pay for staffing services.

O’Boyle asked if Burfoot had any kind of repayment plan with Etheridge.  Burfoot replied that there was no payment plan needed because he trusted Etheridge and they were like family.

“We were like brothers,” Burfoot said.  “Dwight came to my house in Broad Creek every other day; he would come in my fridge, that’s how close we were.”

On Tuesday, O’Boyle questioned Burfoot about his relationship with prosecution witness Janelle Morris, who works under Burfoot and testified under immunity that she had an extended relationship with her boss.

O’Boyle asked Burfoot if he had ever encouraged Morris to lie to the federal investigators about their relationship or any information she may have on Burfoot, which he answered “No.”

Burfoot acknowledged that asked Morris about her interviews with investigators, but never told her to lie to them.

“I asked her did she tell the truth and she said ‘I did what I had to do.’”  Burfoot said.  “I would never instruct anyone to lie to anyone … I would never put that young lady in harm’s way.”

However, when O’Boyle asked Burfoot if he reported to investigators that he knew Morris had been dishonest in testimony, he said “No.”

Prosecutors also sought to bore into an alleged agreement he made for approval of a strip club for developer Tommy Arney.

Burfoot first said he didn’t support Arney and he didn’t feel his business was “first rate.”

However, prosecutors showed footage of previous city council meeting minutes where Burfoot literally said Arney’s business was “first rate,” and showed he was trying to convince another council member to vote in favor of the strip club.

Burfoot then testified about a meeting with Arney in which the developer told him he had both the mayor and another councilman on his side, and that he was counting on Burfoot to push the project forward.

“I told him if you have the mayor and Barclay [Winn] on board we can make this happen because I knew he didn’t have them on board,” Burfoot said.

O’Boyle continued to press the line of questioning, but Burfoot said Arney knew he wouldn’t really support him and he was just saying it to appease him.

Burfoot’s financial records were also called into question by the prosecution. According to the government, Burfoot’s  W-2 tax forms state that his only income during the period in question was from the city, and yet he made thousands of dollars worth of unaccounted cash deposits into his personal accounts.

Burfoot said he had been putting aside $125 in cash each week for years to pay for his children’s college tuition, and that because the money had accumulated, he decided to start putting it in the bank in 2007.

O’Boyle asked the treasure if he wanted to earn interest on the money sitting in his home, and he replied, “No, ma’am.”

The case is expected to go to the jury as soon as Thursday.

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