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Scott Daugherty, a reporter for The Virginian-Pilot, writes:
A Circuit Court judge ordered the public out of the courtroom on Monday afternoon so prosecutors and defense attorneys could argue two motions relating to Councilman Mark Whitaker’s case in private.
Retired Hampton Circuit Judge William Andrews III cleared the room after a defense attorney indicated he planned to discuss grand jury testimony the court previously ordered sealed.
A Virginian-Pilot reporter objected to the move, prompting Andrews to ask a deputy to escort everyone out.
Whitaker, assistant pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church, is charged with 11 counts of forgery, seven counts of passing forged checks and two counts of identity fraud.
The charges stem from an investigation Sheriff Bill Watson initiated into Whitaker’s church, its development company and its now-defunct credit union.
Whitaker’s trial was originally set to start Monday, but the judge postponed it until March 21 so the defense could argue various motions.
Whitaker’s attorneys asked Andrews earlier this year to toss the entire indictment. Jon Babineau and Don Scott argued that the special grand jury process was tainted. They took issue with how Portsmouth Circuit Judge William Moore Jr. recused himself from handling Whitaker’s case after overseeing the grand jury and how Watson and one of his investigators had publicly denounced Whitaker.
The attorneys also argued the court should dismiss 15 of the counts because of insufficient evidence. They noted that two of the victims identified in the indictment have come out in support of Whitaker. Malinda Starkley, who worked at the church and credit union, and Caroline Larosiliere, Whitaker’s sister, say that if Whitaker signed their names to any documents, he did so with their permission.
Special prosecutor Andrew Robbins countered that there is no evidence Moore was biased against Whitaker. He also argued that because Capt. Lee Cherry and Investigator Brett Johnson of the Sheriff’s Office were involved in the original investigation, it made sense for the court to order them to assist the grand jury, along with a special agent from the U.S. Treasury Department.
Dr. Mark Micaiah Whitaker is the third of four children born to Bishop James M. and Otelia McIntyre Whitaker of Portsmouth, VA. He is married to Dr. Ingrid Whitaker, who serves as a Tenured Associate Professor of Sociology at Old Dominion University. Dr. Mark and Dr. Ingrid Whitaker made history on Tuesday, November 4, 2014 by becoming the first married coupled elected to Portsmouth City Council and Portsmouth School Board. They are the proud parents of four children – *****.
Dr. Whitaker was educated in the Portsmouth Public School System. In 1983, he graduated 4th in his class with honors from the great Manor High School and was named to the First Team All-State Boys Basketball Team. Dr. Whitaker furthered his education at Virginia Tech where he was the recipient of a full-athletic scholarship in basketball, served as President of the Black Student Alliance, was listed as Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges, and graduated from Virginia Tech in 1987 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Management Science. In 1989, Dr. Whitaker received a Masters of Business Administration from The Pennsylvania State University. Moreover, in 1993, Dr. Whitaker received the Doctor of Jurisprudence (Law Degree) from The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law where he served as President of the Black Law Students Association in 1992 and 1993 and served on the College of Law Honor Council. Dr. Whitaker has done further studying in the R.B. Pamplin College of Business Doctoral Program at Virginia Tech and the Samuel Dewitt Proctor School of Theology of Virginia Union in the Masters of Divinity program.
Dr. Whitaker presently serves as a Tenured Associate Professor of Management at the historic Hampton University. In 1992, Dr. Whitaker was licensed as a minister and ordained in June of 1995. Moreover, Dr. Whitaker serves as the Assistant Pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church in Portsmouth, VA where his father, Bishop James M. Whitaker has served as the Pastor since June of 1964 and his mother, Otelia McIntyre Whitaker, is the Minister of Music. Under the direction of his father, Dr. Whitaker initiated an endowment fund ministry at the church, computerized the operations of the church and church credit union, received over $1 million from the Virginia Department of Education 21st Century Community Learning Center Grant for after-school tutoring and summer enrichment programs for elementary and middle school students in the Cavalier Manor neighborhood, expanded the catering business of the church, coordinated the purchase of the former Bona Villa 15 acre apartment complex, created the New Bethel Development, LLC , reorganized the Diaconate Ministry, and developed the Wednesday night Christian Development Institute.
In May 2002, Dr. Whitaker was elected to the Portsmouth School Board as the youngest person ever elected and served until December 2014. As a School Board Member, Dr. Whitaker served as chair of the Minority Contracting Committee and the Corporate Sponsorship Committee. Moreover Dr. Whitaker was very instrumental in the School Board implementing a Minority and Women Business Enterprises Program, Middle School Athletics Program, Pay Equity Study, and in advocating for social justice and respect for all.
Dr. Whitaker is one who believes that, through Christ, we can do all things.
Councilman Mark Whitaker was indicted Thursday on 20 felony charges of identity fraud, forgery and using forged checks.
A special grand jury impaneled to hear evidence about Whitaker’s church, New Bethel Baptist Church, and its development company and its now-defunct credit union returned the indictments.
Eleven counts alleged forgery, seven “uttering a forged check” and two identity fraud. Most of the charges stem from August 2013, but two are from October 2014.
Three people were identified as victims in the paperwork – Kevin Blount, Caroline Larosiliere and Malinda Starkley. New Bethel’s website lists a Malinda Starkley as a deacon.
Whitaker previously blasted the grand jury investigation as politically motivated, noting that Sheriff Bill Watson was involved in the initial inquiry. The two are longtime political foes, with each accusing the other of racism and grandstanding over the years.
A source familiar with the case told The Pilot that Watson had his employees start the investigation, and then they looped in the U.S. Treasury Department.
According to court documents, investigators with the Sheriff’s Office, Treasury and the federal agency that regulates credit unions first presented evidence to Portsmouth Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Morales. But she asked the court in January to assign a special prosecutor, citing a conflict of interest “and to avoid the appearance of impropriety.”
Chief Circuit Judge William Moore Jr. impaneled the nine-member grand jury Tuesday to look into the church, the financial relationships between its entities and transactions between those entities and their members, among other things.
After Robbins presented the charges to the jurors, eight of whom appeared to be black and one white, it took about an hour to return with signed indictments.
Earlier Thursday, an attorney representing the church said she did not believe any crimes had occurred.
“If they indict anyone in this matter, it would be an absolute tragedy,” said Verbena Askew, who accompanied a half-dozen church employees Tuesday and Wednesday while they testified to the grand jury.
Over the past month, Askew has repeatedly argued the jury was not legally able to return an indictment. She continued questioning that ability Thursday.
James and Mark Whitaker run the church at 4212 Greenwood Drive and are involved in its development company. Whitaker headed the church’s credit union before it was liquidated in August 2015 because the National Credit Union Administration determined it would never be able to “restore viable operations.”
The church started the development company about 11 years ago to buy a dilapidated rental complex next door, but financing dried up, and New Bethel Development defaulted on a $2.9 million loan, with the church as collateral.
A third party took control and arranged to sell it so the bank could get its money back. The buyer, Herman & Kittle, wants to build 280 apartments there. But the project didn’t get City Council approval after pressure from residents in the Cavalier Manor neighborhood, and Herman & Kittle is suing.