NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Norfolk City Treasurer Anthony Burfoot took the stand Thursday on the fifteenth day of his public corruption trial.
This is the first time we have heard publicly from Burfoot since he was indicted on federal corruption charges. Burfoot is accused of getting more than $450,000 in kickbacks and bribes when he served as a city councilman. Prosecutors say in return, he promised favors, such as making sure Tivest Construction got developing projects in Broad Creek. Burfoot told the court he felt he needed to take the stand and tell his side of the story.
Burfoot and his attorney Andrew Sacks arrived Thursday morning saying they were confident. “We are very energized. Anthony Burfoot has waited a long time to tell his story. We look forward to it,” Sacks told 10 On Your Side.
When Burfoot took the stand, he told the jury he pleaded not guilty because he was not guilty and he didn’t commit perjury.
He went on to talk about his relationship with Dwight and Curtis Etheridge saying they are friends from growing up in the Berkley area of Norfolk. Dwight and Burfoot became very close friends and talked almost every day on the phone.
Burfoot said he was never a part of Tivest and he has never taken any money in return for official acts. Burfoot said he first heard of Tivest in 2005. He said it was just Curtis Etheridge and another man involved at first and then Dwight Etheridge came on board. He denied being a silent partner or any type of partner with Tivest.
When Burfoot was indicted, he said he was surprised that Etheridge was named as someone accusing him of something. He said he has no real relationship with Curtis Etheridge since 2011.
He told the jury he has always done what is best for the city.
Burfoot got emotional on the stand, even tearing up, when asked about the Broad Creek project — a project that replaced low income public housing. That’s because Burfoot grew up in Berkley in a time when kids looked up to drug dealers. He said he wanted to change that area and kids give a future.
That area is the centerpiece of this case because prosecutors claim Burfoot took money from developers in return to make sure Tivest got the jobs to build in Broad Creek.
After a brief morning recess, Burfoot once again took the stand and Sacks began going through the ordinances the government alleges he influenced. Burfoot noted that he is always the first one to vote because they vote alphabetically so he would never know how the other council members voted until after he voted. Sacks asked Burfoot if he ever lobbied or advocated other council members to approve these ordinances and Burfoot responded, “No.”
Right before the recess for lunch, Burfoot was asked about his relationship with local businessman Ronnie Boone. Burfoot said right after he was elected to council, the two met at a party and became friends.
“We didn’t hang out every week, but we were cordial to each other,” Burfoot said.
Sacks asked Burfoot about his vote for the Ocean View pier. He said that was a unanimous vote. Burfoot said he was never worried about Boone when he was indicted because, “I never did any criminal acts with him.” Burfoot said he never took money from Boone.
In September, Boone pleaded guilty to bribing Burfoot and bank fraud.
After lunch, Sacks continued going through a list of ordinances the prosecution is using against Burfoot. One of the ordinances would rescind smoking in establishments. Boone was against it. Burfoot voted in favor of the ordinance.
Another major ordinance Sacks mentioned granted Mojo Bones a special exception to stay open later. This was first brought before city council in 2011. The city’s planning director recommended the request be denied. Burfoot said the owner of Mojo Bones pulled the request before council had the chance to vote.
In 2012, the exception for Mojo Bones came back on the table. The city planning director again recommended it be denied. However, city council voted in favor of the exception. Burfoot says granting the request was directly against Boone’s interest.
Sacks then moved to discussing Broad Creek again. He asked Burfoot, “Did you help Tivest when they missed a proposal deadline?” Burfoot replied: “I did not give them help at any time.”
Sacks continued, “Did Tivest pay for revocations at your home on Winthrop Street?” Burfoot said that wasn’t true. The city treasurer said he bought the Winthrop home as an investment. He said he did the floors, cabinets and other work by himself. Sacks asked if Juan Gomez did the hardwood floors. Burfoot said Gomez had never been in his home.
“I paid for renovations,” Burfoot said. “I was at Home Depot every weekend.”
During the more than two weeks of the trial, Burfoot has quietly sat in court every day, as numerous high-profile figures — including NFL Hall of Famer Bruce Smith and well-known Norfolk developer Ronnie Boone, Sr. — have taken the stand.
WAVY News 10’s Jason Marks has been covering this trial gavel to gavel. Stay with 10 On Your Side for continuing coverage.