By Jocelyn Rardin
NORFOLK (CN) – Defense witnesses testifying in the corruption trial of City Treasurer Anthony Burfoot told the jury he never solicited their support for development projects he had ties to, and that favors performed for him were done for no other reason than friendship.
So far this week, the most noteworthy witnesses have been former Norfolk City Councilman Don William, who testified that Burfoot never lobbied him for a vote when the two served on the council together, and Bruce Gordon, a junior partner in Tivest Development and Construction, who said he didn’t know Burfoot was a founding member of the company when he performed renovations on the treasurer’s home.
Gordon said he did the work on the treasurer’s home — work that included repairs to vinyl siding, as well as plumbing and water heater repairs — as a friend.
On cross-examination, prosecutors got Gordon to say that Tivest’s former president, Dwight Etheridge, told him that Burfoot was a silent partner in the company and that if they provided Burfoot with the renovations, he would “open doors for Tivest.”
Gordon said he was also told Burfoot demanded $250,000 for his interest in Tivest, and that the company’s owner “wasn’t too happy about it.”
But the treasurer’s attorneys appeared unconcerned about these statements, and responded, in part, but producing receipts on Tivest letterhead that show Burfoot had paid for at least some of the work.
Burfoot, 49, is charged with eight felonies. Prosecutors allege that Burfoot received more than $400,000 in kickbacks and bribes between 2005 and early 2011 from Dwight Etheridge amongst and others.
Another witness, John Kownack, executive director of the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority, testified at length about working with Burfoot on the Broad Creek development project, a redevelopment of public housing projects.
Kownack admitted to prosecutors that he and employees of the authority gave special consideration to Burfoot’s many requests regarding the project in order to keep up the pace of construction.
“It helped to keep Burfoot in the loop to keep construction from stopping,” Kownack said.
Kownack said he disapproved with the details that Burfoot wanted to put into the homes like hardwood floor, granite countertops, and two sink bathrooms because he didn’t believe the majority of developers would be able to get a profit from selling to lower income buyers.
Despite this, Kownack agreed to let Burfoot and Tivest place most of the requested amenities in the homes, which remain unfinished.
Kownack testified that a number of authority employees expressed concern about the level of Burfoot’s involvement in the decision-making process.
However, Kownack was adamant that he believed Burfoot intentions for the development were nothing but admirable.