Tuesday morning, a special grand jury will begin investigating the activities and finances of a company, church and federal credit union of Portsmouth City Councilman Mark Whitaker. The empaneling marks the latest development in a case we have been investigating since November of 2015.
We've been telling you about this latest update specifically using the term "special grand jury."
It is different than the grand juries that meet on a regular basis in each locality in Virginia.
The paperwork says the special grand jury will investigate the activities of three entities-- New Bethel Baptist Church, where Councilman Mark Whitaker is the assistant pastor, New Bethel Development LLC, where Whitaker is listed as manager, and the now-defunct New Bethel Federal Credit Union.
Special grand jurors will come to Portsmouth Circuit Court Tuesday morning. Court documents said the court will choose anywhere from seven to eleven people from a list of qualified Portsmouth citizens to actually investigate, report and consider indictments.
The people who sit on this special grand jury are peers of Councilman Whitaker and anyone else they investigate. They, and not any law enforcement or attorneys who could have skewed perspectives, will decide if the case should go forward to court. These people are required to be indifferent. A judge will question each one under oath to make sure he or she is qualified.
According to Virginia code, this type of grand jury actually has subpoena power. It can order witnesses to testify before it and bring documents to consider as evidence.
So what happens with that investigation? The law says a majority, but not less than five, must agree in order to return a “true bill of indictment.”
To be clear—any indictment doesn't mean anyone is guilty, just that there's enough evidence to make a reasonable person believe a crime has been or may have been committed.
We reached out to Councilman Whitaker and his attorney for a comment ahead of the special grand jury, but neither has responded to our request.
In the interest of full disclosure, we must tell you, about a year after our original investigation aired, Councilman Whitaker sued our station alleging our story defamed the public official. We are vigorously defending our work in court and standby our story.