Norfolk’s City Treasurer Anthony Burfoot could get at least 100 years in prison for activities related to his time as a city councilman and vice mayor.
But for now, Burfoot and his attorney Andrew Sacks will be waging an appeal from his federal convictions, and Burfoot is back on the job as City Treasurer. The position is a state constitutional one, and state law says a convicted official cannot be pushed from office until all appeals have “expired” or been used before the respective courts.
On December 9, after only five hours of deliberations, a jury found Burfoot guilty of six of the eight charges he was tried for in a federal court in Norfolk.
Federal prosecutors persuaded jurors during the five-week trial that Burfoot sold his vote to developers who sought access to projects and other favors while he was serving on the Norfolk City Council from 2002-2013,
In exchange Burfoot acquired over $400,000 in cash and other gifts, including cars and materials to rehabilitate one of his homes.
While the Burfoot trial did lay bare some very damning revelations about his illicit activities while on council, the Black community’s reaction to the convictions has been mixed.
Facebook and casual conversations with people once close to Burfoot and those who only know him via the media, range from cold damnation and calls for him to step aside to sympathy for a Black leader “scapegoated” by rivals via a vast conspiracy.
There have been some positive mentions of his efforts to revitalize parts of his ward while on council (Ward 3), especially, the Broadcreek community, his lobbying to build the Kroc Center to Norfolk, and the hiring of people from his community for city jobs.
“There are a lot of questionable behaviors on his part, but why are the White developers who have been making millions off the process not given the same attention and sanctions, “ said one Norfolk resident who agreed to talk on the condition of anonymity. “I am sure there are others who the feds should looking at, too. I am believing that Burfoot is just a scapegoat to divert our attention.”
On the other hand, there are those who say the trial was an embarassing mark on the Black community’s leadership and abuse of powers to enrich themselves when there are so many poor people they represent.
Another Black person took a different tact; he, too, did not want his name used for this article having known Mr. Burfoot for years.
“I don’t think race has anything to do with the outcome of this case,” the person said. “Burfoot was arrogant, careless and greedy. He claims he had to make a living. You do not do it this way, at the public trough. Most disturbing, he took advantage of one of the few minority firms which was asking for his help. He shook them down for thousands of dollars. It’s like something you see on the Sopranos (an HBO drama about New Jersey mobsters) not community service.”
Efforts have been renewed by the Norfolk City Recall Committee (NCRC) which has been seeking to remove Burfoot from his treasurer’s job. The process was delayed to allow the criminal trial to proceed.
John Wesley Hill, one of the NCRC leaders, said his group is looking forward to January 6, when a Circuit Court session will convene to address the situation.
His group collected more than 7,000 signatures from Norfolk residents calling for a recall trial to allow Burfoot to come before a judge to state why he should or should not be removed from office.
“There will either be a trial where he will have to make his case to stay in office or a hearing to delay. We don’t know right now,” said Hill.
Hill said he and other members of the recall committee have been lobbying state and local political officials to help build pressure on Burfoot to step aside. Hill went before the Norfolk City Council meeting on December 13 to explain the committee’s positions and to urge members to address the issue.
Two Norfolk City Council members, Tommy Smiegel and Andria McClellan, had called earlier for Burfoot to resign and led colleagues in an 8-0 vote to do the same at the council meeting. But there is very little the Norfolk City Council can do to force Burfoot from office, since it has no constitutional control of his office.
“Burfoot has laid open the fact that corruption is ripe in this city. And people want something to be done about it,” said Hill.
At the heart of the federal prosecutors’ case was Burfoot’s associations with three developers.
In exchange for his vote of support on various projects, it was revealed during the trial that Burfoot received over $400,000 and bribes and other material gifts from developers Dwight Etheridge, Tommy Arney and Ronnie Boone, Sr.
One of the most damning revelations involved $56,000 Burfoot deposited in a local bank which was not from salary. Federal prosecutors linked the cash to Tivest which was given to Burfoot over a three-year period allegedly to help with the firm’s development project.