NORFOLK, Va. - Was Bob McCabe a corrupt sheriff or just a friend accepting gifts? That could be the central question in the federal trial of the former sheriff.
Jurors heard opening statements from both sides on Wednesday morning. The statements are not considered evidence, but an outline of the case both sides will make during the trial.
McCabe, who served as the sheriff of Norfolk for more than 20 years, faces 11 charges and is accused of accepting bribes to enrich himself while in office.
Prosecutors say McCabe had illegal partnerships with the heads of two companies who did business with the jail during his time as sheriff.
John Appleton was the head of ABL and has immunity from prosecution. He will testify against McCabe, including an incident where he says McCabe let him view the competing bid of a contract, so he knew to bid lower. McCabe's attorney denied this ever happened.
The former head of Correct Care Solutions has also been indicted and will face his own trial later this year.
Prosecutors say McCabe gave the companies advantages in the bidding process for contracts at the jail. In return, they say McCabe got gifts, cash and campaign contributions.
The prosecutor said McCabe "cashed in" and "dishonored his badge as a law enforcement officer."
On the other side, McCabe's attorney, James Broccoletti, put it bluntly.
"Friends don't bribe friends," he told the jury.
Broccoletti said the two men were friends with McCabe and said they'd been described as "frat brothers." He says McCabe did accept all of the gifts and contributions, but said they were meant as signs of friendship and not an attempt to bribe a public official.
Broccoletti said companies that do business with jails routinely donate to sheriffs around the country.
McCabe inherited a jail that was in disrepair, Broccoletti said, and turned things around. He did admit McCabe made mistakes on campaign finance reports, but added that's not what he's charged with in this case.
"He is not a crook - plain and simple," Broccoletti said.
Dozens of witnesses are expected to be called to testify over the next few weeks. Norfolk Voting Registrar Stephanie Isles was the first government witness, who testified to how campaign finance reports are filed.