Co-owner of construction company testifies in Burfoot corruption trial

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NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Only one witness took the stand Thursday in the Anthony Burfoot federal corruption trial.

Dwight Etheridge spent hours talking about how he gave money to Burfoot in exchange for construction deals.

Federal prosecutors wanted to know more about Broad Creek Villas. Broad Creek was an area in Norfolk that was once public housing run by the Norfolk Housing and Redevelopment Association, and it was being converted to affordable homes.

Etheridge, co-owner of Tivest Construction, said Burfoot wanted $250,000 for the rights to develop Broad Creek. He told the jury Tivest asked that the city pay the company $650,000 in infrastructure for Broad Creek Villas.

“The council thought we were out of our minds,” Etheridge said. “Burfoot said not to worry about it. He told us he was working on it.”

Tivest and the city agreed the company would be paid $200,000, and that Tivest would be given the land for only $10.

Etheridge said it took months before the project was approved by city council and it was because Burfoot wouldn’t allow a vote until he got most of his $250,000.

In August 2009, Tivest was given a check for $69,000 from the city and then another $22,000 in January 2010.

Witness testimony continues in Burfoot corruption trial

Etheridge says Tivest obtained financing from Bank of the Commonwealth for $5 million. They were funds meant to be used only for construction.

Etheridge added he would make numerous withdraws from Bank of the Commonwealth, but instead of using the money for construction, it would go into his pocket and would also be given to Burfoot.

According to Etheridge, he would call Burfoot on his city cell phone at first to set up meetings to exchange money. Burfoot feared getting caught and asked Etheridge only to call his personal cell.

Etheridge testified that since he was using bank money reserved for construction to pay off Burfoot, that work on Broad Creek Villas didn’t get finished. A commercial strip left businesses without plumbing, electrical and drop ceilings. The project is still unfinished today.

Etheridge says before Tivest got the city approval for Broad Creek, Burfoot was tipping the company off about other NHRA Broad Creek projects. Burfoot would even be given extra money in return.

“[Anthony Burfoot] told us he had our back,” Etheridge said. “We would be alright.”

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Etheridge said the city council approved every proposal Tivest put in.

“I can’t ever remember losing one,” he said. “We got every one.”

Etheridge told the jury that Burfoot would attend weekly NHRA meetings. The two would talk about projects as soon as the meeting ended.

Etheridge said at one point, Burfoot’s friend, Curtis Anderson, was appointed to the NHRA board.

Federal prosecutors then asked Etheridge about the Midtown Office Tower.

“This project meant everything,” Etheridge added. “It was a lifeline.”

Etheridge explained that he was spending so much money paying off bills and Burfoot, that money was running out. He believed the Midtown Office Tower project would help him recoup all his money and then some.

The Midtown Officer Tower was a six story, 218,000 square foot building to be built on Tidewater Drive. It had a $23 million budget. The Norfolk nonprofit Southeastern Tidewater Opportunity Project (STOP) planned to lease half the building.

Etheridge told the jury Burfoot wanted an office on the top floor with a private entrance.

Etheridge said he asked the city for several delays to make sure the financing was there. He went on to say his credit wasn’t very good at the time.

Behind closed doors, Etheridge says Burfoot convinced the city to lease 60,000 square feet. The city would pay almost $1.3 million a year.

Tivest would get $23 million at closing. Etheridge told the jury Burfoot wanted 10 percent of that.

Etheridge says STOP then announced it was having financial trouble, and once again, the lenders became concerned.

“It caused an earthquake,” Etheridge said.

Etheridge told the jury Burfoot asked the city to have a backstop for STOP, meaning that the city would talk over STOP’s lease if the nonprofit group couldn’t pay.

“We had the wind at our backs for other votes,” Etheridge added. “Now it turned into a hurricane.”

The idea of a backstop divided city council. Before the vote, council members Tommy Smigiel and Angelia Williams held a town hall meeting at Granby High School.

Etheridge says he wanted to go, but Burfoot wouldn’t let him. In the meeting, someone mentioned that Tivest was delinquent on its city taxes.

Etheridge told the jury that Burfoot called him one weekend and told him he had to pay the taxes — all $30,000 — first thing Monday morning. The taxes were paid.

The next day, February 15, 2001, was the vote on the backstop, which ended up passing 5-3.

“Burfoot was excited,” Etheridge added. “We were elated. We were giving each other high fives.”

Soon after, STOP publicly said it could not afford the project and pulled out. The project was then cancelled by City Manager Marcus Jones.

“I was ruined,” Etheridge said. “Tivest was ruined.”

Etheridge said he never gave Burfoot any more money and Burfoot cut all off all ties.

The trial continues first thing Monday morning. Stay with 10 On Your Side for continuing coverage.