NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — The fate of Norfolk City Treasurer Anthony Burfoot is now in the hands of the jury. Defense attorneys began and completed closing arguments in the corruption trial Thursday afternoon.
The city treasurer is facing several federal corruption charges — including conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud and conspiracy to obtain property under color of official right. Burfoot has adamantly denied the charges.
The prosecution’s closing arguments Thursday lasted two hours. Assistant U.S. Attorney Uzo Asonye told the jury Burfoot put his hand on a bible four times when he was sworn into office. “During this trial you’ve seen him (Burfoot) repeatedly break that oath.”
He added, “When a public official takes things from others it’s bribery, it’s corruption and it’s illegal.”
Asonye tied together the loose ends for the jury.
“Mr. Burfoot is a powerful man,” Asonye said. “He made sure city staff knew he controlled projects in his Ward. City staff either toed the line or were sidelined.”
Asonye told the jury Burfoot made 21 corrupt votes while he served as Norfolk City Councilman and Vice Mayor and it started when he became a partner in Tivest.
Witnesses testified that Burfoot wanted out of Tivest and called a meeting at Curtis Etheridge’s home. There he asked for $250,000 and in return he would make sure Tivest was given the Broad Creek Villas project.
Dwight Etheridge testified that he continued to give envelopes stuffed with cash to Burfoot on a regular basis.
“We are talking about cold hard cash,” Asonye added.
Asonye pointed out that bank records showed over the course of several years Etheridge withdrew $1.3 million dollars in cash and at the same time Burfoot deposited $50,000 in cash.
“We knew his city paycheck was direct deposit so where was that cash coming from?” Asonye asked.
Asonye went over the favors Tivest did for Burfoot, which included renovations done to his Winthrop Street home, appliances put into his Broad Creek house and giving Burfoot a Mercedes.
Burfoot told the court he bought the Mercedes from Etheridge, but prosecutors say the $20,000 loan he took out was a sham and it was Etheridge who ended up paying off the loan.
Asonye then went vote for vote and showed the jury a pattern. Every time Burfoot was given a gift it was followed by a big vote.
Prosecutors say the only time Burfoot didn’t vote in favor of the developers was when the political climate didn’t allow it.
Asonye said Burfoot helped Tivest on projects in Broad Creek and the Midtown Officer Tower.
The Midtown Officer Tower project fell through because of funding and the relationship between Etheridge and Burfoot crumbled.
Burfoot also had relationships with developers Ronnie Boone and Tommy Arney.
Asonye told the jury Boone would give Burfoot cash and the use of his beach house and in return, Burfoot voted to give the Ocean View Pier a liquor license and to keep smoking in Norfolk bars.
The only time Burfoot voted again Boone was for the special exception for Mojo Bones. Mojo Bones wanted to serve alcohol until 1 a.m. and Boone was against it. Burfoot changed his vote at the last minute. Prosecutors say that was because a fellow council member called out Burfoot’s relationship with Boone and Burfoot voted against Boone to show otherwise.
Asonye said Burfoot promised Arney his support for a downtown strip club as long as Arney gave the mother of Burfoot’s children $25,000.
Tammy Sansbury wanted to buy a condo in a complex Arney just built, but she did not qualify for the loan, because she owed $25,000 on credit card payments.
Arney said he paid the money.
Witnesses testified Burfoot toured the proposed Granby Cabaret several times and was “in support” of it.
Burfoot’s best friend Keith McNair testified that Burfoot told Arney that he could get the votes needed.
Burfoot then publicly came out against the proposed strip club.
In opening statements, Burfoot’s attorney Andrew Sacks said these developers were conspiring against his client.
“There was no grand conspiracy to set up Burfoot,” Asonye said. “The only conspiracy here is one involving bribes to Burfoot.”
In closing arguments, the defense focused on the fact that the key witnesses for the prosecution have a combined total of 15 felony convictions.
“The government spent two hours talking about this case, but spent five minutes talking about the character of these people,” Sacks said about Tommy Arney, Ronnie Boone and Dwight Etheridge
“The government has not proven to our satisfaction that they’ve proven this beyond a reasonable doubt,” Sacks said. “If there is a reason to doubt he is not guilty of any of these charges, there is nothing wrong with checking the not guilty boxes.”
He added, “leopards can’t change their spots, and these spots are there for good.”
Sacks also said the witnesses he brought in were attorneys, city council members, former city managers and other prominent officials. The government’s theory is that Burfoot was pushing and shoving on the inside to get things done, but none of those officials ever said Burfoot came to them for anything.
Asonye said in a rebuttal, “I would have loved to call in nuns and priests, but unfortunately they did not bribe Anthony Burfoot and they weren’t developers in the city.”
The jury will begin deliberations Friday.
WAVY’s Jason Marks will have continuing coverage from Norfolk on air and online Friday.