PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — A former Portsmouth city councilman turned convicted felon is hoping voters will stand behind him come Election Day.
In July, a jury convicted Mark Whitaker on three counts of felony forgery. However, on Tuesday a group of local pastors took the stand, saying they hope it won’t overshadow what they call his accomplishments serving the city.
Whitaker says he and his family have stood for what is right and what is just.
“We are looking forward to November 6 to recognize that my name is still on the ballot and my vote will be counted,” said Whitaker in front of Portsmouth City Hall.
VIDEO (App Users): Local pastors stand behind candidate Whitaker
However, according to a sign posted on the city’s website and at the registrar’s office, Whitaker is disqualified. His name still appears on the ballot, however according to the registrar’s office, the ballots were printed before they learned of his disqualification. The signs will be placed at all polling places and they are sent to Portsmouth residents who requested absentee ballots, by mail.
You can find the sign here.
Despite that, many local pastors say they support Whitaker.
“I’m confident that he will serve the city, I’m hopeful that he will serve the city,” said Pastor Milton Blount. “For persons who are not certain, in terms or whether or not if I cast my vote to him, I would say to them, don’t look at that as a wasted vote.”
According to the Virginia Department of Elections, If Mr. Whitaker is one of the three highest vote recipients, he will not be eligible to take office under Article 5 of the Virginia Constitution.
Therefore, the only resolution is to hold a special election to fill the vacancy.
As 10 On Your Side has reported, Whitaker will see no jail time for felony forgery. The Portsmouth councilman went before a judge in September for a sentencing hearing. This comes after a jury convicted him in July on three counts of felony forgery. Prosecutors said he forged loan documents for $35,000 to demolish a drug-infested apartment complex across from New Bethel Baptist Church where Whitaker is a pastor.
Judge Harold Burgess Jr. upheld a jury’s verdict that Whitaker is guilty of three felony counts of forgery. Whitaker’s legal team had asked for the verdicts to be set aside and dropped because they argued the jury got the law wrong that led to conviction.
The jury recommended $2,500 for each of the three felony convictions, so on Wednesday, Judge Burgess sentenced Whitaker to pay $7,500, but spared him any jail time.
Councilman Whitaker was first indicted in April 2017, and Wednesday it came full circle. He is required by a new state law to be suspended from city council pending his appeal. His pay goes into an escrow account.