Portsmouth Councilman Mark Whitaker is heading to court to face criminal charges. His arraignment, after a special grand jury indicted him on twenty charges, is scheduled for Monday.
The news comes following a 13News Now investigation into Whitaker's company and its finances. We have been looking into the story since November of 2015.
We've been trying to get Councilman Whitaker's side of the story. Late Friday, former Mayor Kenny Wright responded to our request for comment saying he supports Whitaker.
"This is another attempt to discredit a strong leader, who speaks for the voiceless,” Wright wrote. “Citizens need to stay focus, and not be distracted.”
Just about twenty-four hours after a special grand jury indicted Councilman Whitaker on twenty charges, the councilman still had nothing to say. When turning himself into police Thursday, he did not answer reporters' questions. Friday, neither he, nor his lawyer, responded to another request for comment.
On Monday, Whitaker will face a judge on eleven courts of forgery, seven counts of uttering or passing a forged check, and two counts of identity fraud. The twenty charges are linked to the finances and activities of his church, company, and federal credit union.
We took the case to political analysts to find out if there are political implications for these criminal charges.
“With public officials, there's this idea of honor and integrity,” explained Dr. Rachel Bitecofer of CNU's Wason Center for Public Policy. “Regardless of whether the scandal is directly related to their office or if it's something external as is the case with this one, it still gives the public a lot of pause to think 'hey, is this somebody that I can trust.'”
Whitaker is the latest Virginia public official to come into the spotlight for the wrong reasons. Norfolk Treasurer Anthony Burfoot was just sentenced on corruption charges. Former Norfolk Sheriff Bob McCabe is at the center of a federal investigation. And, Waverly Mayor Walter Mason was just indicted on felony election fraud charges.
So we wanted to know what this says about Virginia politics.
“It's had many people wondering is Virginia suddenly experiencing this rash of corruption and what's going on in our system that's producing that,” Bitecofer added. “I would like to point out that when you look at Virginia compared to other states, there's nothing abnormal about the level of corruption that's happening here.”
Whitaker is expected in Portsmouth Circuit Court Monday morning at 9:30. Of course we will be there to see what happens and get any comment the councilman may have.