PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Mark Whitaker will see no jail time for felony forgery.
The Portsmouth councilman went before a judge Wednesday morning 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.
10 On Your Side asked Whitaker what he plans to do about his suspension, “I plan on living the way I live, and I will be at the next city council meeting. I most certainly will, and I will serve until I am told by my lawyers otherwise.”
10 On Your Side was first to report his name has been removed from the city website as a councilman.
He is also on the ballot and is running for re-election, but efforts are already underway to let voters know due to his felony convictions he is no longer eligible to hold elected office.
His legal team disagrees and insists it will be easy for Whitaker to get his civil rights restored. He remains on the ballot, and insists he will win.
Whitaker stood in front of the Portsmouth Judicial Center with his family after the judge’s decision, “I want to make sure I am clear about this in letting you know what we have done, we will continue to do, and that is stand for what is right. This is all about trying to silence my voice, and my voice will not be silenced, and I am not intimidated. As I have told you on council I am not intimidated by white supremacy nor by black inferiority.”
Whitaker left the courthouse defiant, and maintaining he did nothing wrong.
“In no regard am I deterred from doing what I am doing, or going through this. I feel a sense of righteousness and in that sense I have stood for the truth.”
A diverse jury of his peers disagreed, finding Whitaker guilty of forgery. “There was no forgery in this case. There were no victims in this case. What we did was to improve our community to take blight out of it, to use funds that were appropriate to use from our credit union … we were cleaning up drugs in the neighborhood and prostitution,” Whitaker said.
Whitaker named names in who he blames for his legal predicament.
Their goal was to remove me from council, and the investigation began with his political enemy, former Sheriff Bill Watson.
According to Whitaker’s attorney Jon Babineau, the official noting of the felony convictions will likely be next week, “Once the judge signs the order and it is entered on the record in the clerks office of the Circuit Court then the conviction is memorialized, so between now and then there is no conviction order in place.”
How does this impact Whitakers November re-election bid?
“Since Dr. Whitaker is not sentenced to any incarceration, he is not on probation, so he can have civil rights resorted immediately which means he is eligible to be in elective office, and to run for elective office,” Babineau said.
Whitaker also noted the possible plea agreement that would have made all this go away.
“They went from 20 felonies to one misdemeanor. I rejected it because I refused to admit to something I know I didn’t do.”
Whitaker says he is also buoyed by the support he sees in the community, “I have been in the mall, in the store, black, white, Jew, gentile, protestant, Catholic they all come up to me and say ‘thank you for what you are doing,’ and I will continue to do that.”
Whitaker says that feedback plays into the November election, which he says will take care of itself.
“I am going to continue to move forward. This does not dishearten me. In fact, it empowers me. I must have been a major threat for this type of action.
Whitaker stood for 23 minutes taking questions talking about being a family man, alongside his son behind him, and his father, Bishop James Whitaker, to his right who stood up for his son.
“I am so glad he has not bowed or bend and stands up for righteousness, segregation, and wickedness and we are going to fight and stay on the battlefield as long as God gives us breath,” Bishop Whitaker said.
His son, Mark Whitaker, responded, “amen, amen.”