PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — All but three of the 20 felony fraud and forgery charges have been dropped in the case against a Portsmouth councilman.
Dr. Mark Whitaker was faced 20 felony charges of fraud and forgery. The charges involved New Bethel Baptist Church — where Whitaker is an assistant pastor — as well as a credit union attached to it called New Bethel Federal Credit Union.
The credit union made seven loans in 2013 for $5,000 each — totaling $35,000. Whitaker was accused of forging three different names on the checks.
Whitaker was given a chance to take a plea deal in February, but refused. In court Monday, the councilman pleaded not guilty all of the charges.
COVERAGE: Mark Whitaker Trial Day One
Upon hearing the announcement, the Whitaker family, out in force the last two days, stomped their feet and cried tears of joy.
Judge Harold Burgess said, “I just see no evidence that the defendant did it. No evidence Mr. Whitaker executed the checks or uttered them. The commonwealth has failed to prove a prima fascia case that the defendant, Mr. Whitaker, committed the offenses.”
“It is another great day and once again thank everyone for their prayers and support and looking for full exoneration,” Whitaker said on Tuesday.
To get that Whitaker must beat three charges of forgery that were not dismissed by the judge
The three remaining cases involve contractor Kevin Blount.
In allowing those three charges to move forward, the judge remembered what Blount said: “Mr. Whitaker called me and said he figured a way to get me the checks.”
Blount said on the stand Tuesday that Whitaker wanted him to take out a loan from the credit union even though Blount wasn’t a member of the credit union, but when Blount refused to do that he says Whitaker asked him will sign some checks, which Blount did.
The $35,000 in loans from the credit union was to pay for the demolition of an apartment complex across the street from the Whitaker Church. Whitaker needed the money quickly, so the loans were made from the credit union even though New Bethel Federal Credit Union had a moratorium on it from making loans.
An official from the National Credit Union Association testified that her point person with Whitaker’s credit union was Mark Whitaker. She said he knew there was a moratorium and made the loans anyway, that he was engaged in the process.
Whitaker has said he was under the impression from his brother Phil that a recent upgrade in standings with the Credit Union Association allowed them to make loans.
When asked about the three remaining charges, Whitaker responded, “We just look forward to another great day tomorrow and looking for full vindication.”
Closing arguments in the case will begin Wednesday morning at 9 a.m. Mark Whitaker will not take the stand.