Special grand jury to investigate Portsmouth Councilman Whitaker’s church

Portsmouth City Councilman Mark Whitaker

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) – The Portsmouth Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Treasury Department have been asked to assist a special grand jury in its investigation into City Councilman Mark Whitaker’s church and ties to a failed credit union, 10 On Your Side has confirmed.

The court order approving the request for a special grand jury was filed on March 23. It will involve a special prosecutor from Winchester, because the Portsmouth Commonwealth’s Attorney, Stephanie Morales, recused herself.

According to the court documents, this panel, which will be asked to serve beginning April 18, will look into the activities of the New Bethel Baptist Church, The New Bethel Federal Credit Union and its development company, dating back to 1986.

Whitaker is an assistant pastor and president of the development company.

Whitaker’s attorney, Verbena Askew, told WAVY News 10 Thursday that the case is politically motivated. She said its roots are in the dispute between the Sheriff’s Office and former Mayor Kenny Wright, “One person on council that appears to be in disagreement with the other side or in disagreement with the other six. You’ve got the same sheriff who apparently went after the mayor is now going after Councilman Whitaker,” said Askew.

10 On Your Side reported last October that the New Bethel Baptist Church is suing the City of Portsmouth after council members denied an application to build apartment homes on Greenwood Drive.

Askew says the involvement of a special grand jury is a sign that it’s not a strong case. “It’s just been in my experience if you’ve got a special grand jury that means you don’t have enough evidence to bring to a grand jury. So you’re basically using the special grand jury to be your investigative tool.”

Reporter Chris Horne will have a live report on the investigation beginning tonight on WAVY News 10 at 4.