PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Portsmouth City Councilman Mark Whitaker spoke for the first time Monday since being indicted last week.
Whitaker, who was not in court Monday, is facing nearly two dozen felony charges after a special grand jury indicted him for identity fraud and forgery.
10 On Your Side learned in March that Portsmouth Sheriff Bill Watson launched an investigation into the councilman. The sheriff’s office and the U.S. Treasury Department looked into Whitaker’s church Bethel Baptist, and ties to a failed credit union.
Monday’s hearing only included the naming of counsel in this case, which did not require Whitaker to attend. The statement released by Scott Monday reads:
First, I wanted to thank all of the people in the City of Portsmouth and around the state and nation who have contacted me and prayed with me and provided words of encouragement. I am grateful to my wife and family who are unwavering in their support of me. So far, there has only been one side of the story told exclusively by the prosecutor and the Special Grand Jury with no opportunity for me to defend myself. On advice of counsel, I am unable to discuss this case and the circumstances of the charges publicly. However, I look forward to vigorously defending my name and I am confident I will be found innocent.
I have school age children in my home and I am still actively assisting my father as a Pastor at our church, I respectfully request that the media not come to my home or our place of worship. I will continue to do what is right for the city in which I was raised and love.”
Whitaker is accused of forging the names of three victims in 2013 and 2014.
Court records say one is a 61-year-old fellow church member, whose name was forged on her personal checks, and the councilman tried to pass them. The indictments also say he forged documents in the names of the two other victims.
In all, Whitaker is facing 20 felony counts — 11 for forgery, 7 for passing forged checks and two for identity fraud.
“Obviously there are a lot of issues that need to be resolved,” Scott said Monday when asked about the charges. “We’re going to investigate, look into it and at the end of the day, I’m sure that Dr. Whitaker will be exonerated.”
Scott recently took on the case.
Back in March, Whitaker’s attorney at the time, Verbena Askew, told 10 On Your Side she believes this case is politically motivated by Watson.
Whitaker wouldn’t talk specifics as he walked into a city council work session Monday night, but he took time to thank his supporters.
“They just don’t know how much it has made me feel good to get the love and support from across this region and the state and the nation,” said Whitaker. “People I don’t even know are stopping me on the street are telling me, ‘We support you.'”
Councilwoman Lisa Lucas-Burke was the only member of the city council to react to the ongoing legal dispute.
“I was surprised … we had no idea, just didn’t know what was going on. Somebody knew something, so that is why we are here in this present day,” said Lucas-Burke. “Someone who is mentoring or ministering to anyone in that capaicty, you are there to encourage your congregation and constituents and people look up to you as a leader … If there are counts that they found there has got to be some evidence to support it.”
Whitaker’s trial is set to begin on November 13. It’s expected to last five days.