NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — There was a lot of back-scratching going on when former Norfolk Sheriff Bob McCabe was in office, according to the federal government’s star witness in McCabe’s public corruption trial.
“I knew it was wrong,” said John Appleton in court Tuesday.
Appleton is the former CEO of ABL Management. The company provided food services for more than 20 years to the Norfolk jail.
ABL had only been in existence for four years before getting the contract at the jail in 1994. Appleton told the jury that he had a meeting in McCabe’s office during the bidding process.
“He told me he was going to step out and there may be something of interest on his desk,” Appleton added.
Appleton told the jury that once McCabe left, he got up and on the desk was a price sheet from a competitor.
“It was much lower in price,” Appleton said. “I was amazed. This never happened again to this day.”
Appleton says he did use the information to his advantage. ABL was giving the contract.
“Did you know it was wrong?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Melissa O’Boyle asked.
“Yes ma’am,” Appleton responded.
“Why did you use the information?” O’Boyle asked.
“To get the contract,” said Appleton.
Appleton says McCabe made certain that he could find a new vendor if he chose.
“He would be able to authorize who gets contracts and he said he had city council on his side and could control them,” Appleton added.
Appleton admitted that he and McCabe violated provisions in the request for proposals by giving and accepting gifts during the bidding process.
“I scratch your back, you scratch mine,” Appleton said of the relationship. “I’ll do caterings, trips, gifts and campaign contributions and in exchange, I get the contracts.”
Appleton avoided prosecution by testifying under immunity from the federal government.
Prosecutors painted a pattern between Appleton and McCabe. The sheriff would routinely ask ABL to cater political fundraisers, McCabe’s yearly golf tournament and Old Dominion’s Big Blue barbeque. ABL would always pick up the tab, but the events would usually be followed by a renewal of the contract.
“Did you think you could say no to the sheriff’s catering?” O’Boyle asked.
“No,” Appleton added. “I wanted to keep the contract.”
Appleton told the jury that he and McCabe also took trips to the College Football National Championship game, the Bahamas, New York City, Monday Night Football in Miami, and San Francisco.
Appleton and ABL also gave McCabe nearly $50,000 in campaign donations over the years.
Prosecutors showed text messages where McCabe was asking for money and reminding Appleton about the expiring contract.
“We ended up giving more to his campaign,” Appleton said. “That was Bob McCabe. He always said comically if you can’t do it, I’ll find someone else to do it.”
McCabe’s attorney says the two were good friends. The families routinely traveled together, and McCabe was even invited to Appleton’s daughter’s wedding.
Appleton told prosecutors he considered this a business relationship.
“Do you regret ongoing in the pattern of activity with Bob McCabe?” O’Boyle asked.
“Yes, I do,” Appleton answered.
Testimony continued in the federal public corruption trial for McCabe on Wednesday.
The jury heard from Norfolk City Clerk Alan Bull. He told the court that every year, public officials need to disclose any gifts more than $50 they had received.
Prosecutors showed the jury McCabe’s yearly statements from 2012-2015 where he said he hadn’t been given any gifts.
However, on Tuesday, the federal government had Appleton on the stand testifying to all the gifts he had given to the former Norfolk sheriff.
On Wednesday, the court heard from another ABL employee who talked more about the catering events hosted by McCabe. She told the jury they could happen at all times of day and employees weren’t reimbursed for working the private events.
Defense attorneys argued that ABL does catering for law enforcement all over the country and there was nothing wrong about McCabe’s events.
The jury then heard from an executive with Correct Care Solutions. Prosecutors showed her a series of emails back in 2010 which shows CCS lowering its bid over a period of several months to get awarded the medical contract at the jail. CCS came down $250,000.
Prosecutors claim the sheriff’s office tipped off CCS to lower its bid so the company could get the contract. In return, CCS gave the sheriff gifts and thousands in campaign donations.
Stay with WAVY.com for updates.