Justice Department to treat Obama’s close friend as a ‘hostile witness’ in fraud case
posted at 10:01 am on December 3, 2014 by Noah Rothman
Dr. Eric Whitaker, a former director of the Illinois Department of Public Health under Gov. Rod Blagojevich, first began to establish a relationship with President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama when he worked with the first lady at the University of Chicago Medical Center. They became close, and the future first family could be regularly seen spending leisure time with Whitaker.
Writing in Chicago Magazine in 2013, Carol Felsenthal observed in a clever column that President Barack Obama’s close friend and golf partner “hasn’t been accused of any wrongdoing.” She noted that this line appeared in virtually every account of the many underhanded affairs with which Whitaker had been closely, but not directly, associated.
Felsenthal observed that a 2011 Chicago Sun-Times investigation revealed that “a range of ‘faith-based initiatives’ and health-outreach programs that were overseen by Dr. Eric Whitaker” were scandalized when they were drained of funds which had been reserved for the needy.
The next day, the Sun-Times’ Fusco and McKinney wrote about an AIDS-awareness program, the nonprofit Working for Togetherness—under the control of the Illinois Department of Public Health then headed by Whitaker—aimed at reaching people in “poor African-American neighborhoods.” In 2004, Fusco and McKinney wrote, “Whitaker’s department and the Illinois Department of Human Services gave Working for Togetherness $150,000 to raise awareness about AIDS in African-American communities by driving around and providing HIV test kits and information.” The attention-grabbing vehicle was a used $45,196 red, fully loaded, and “blinged” Hummer—featuring “game consoles, custom sound, television, DVD, public address, custom paints and tire rims”—bought, at least partly, with state funds.
“Prosecutors allege that of the $1 million in grants [a former director of the National Black Nurses Association Margaret A. Davis] received under Whitaker and other state-agency directors, she siphoned off $500,000 for her personal use,” read a 2013 memo from the Illinois Central District U.S. Attorney’s office revealing that Davis had plead guilty to mail fraud and defrauding state grant programs.
While Michelle Obama was still working at the University of Chicago Medical Center, the convicted fraudster Quinshaunta Golden, Whitaker’s former chief of staff at the Illinois Department of Public Health, also came to work at that hospital. Federal investigators soon discovered that Golden was involved in a kickback scheme that siphoned $433,000 out of public funds and from which Golden had benefited. “It allegedly kept flowing until October 2008,” The Chicago Tribune reported. “By that time, Golden and Whitaker had left state government to work together at the University of Chicago Medical Center.”
“There was no indication in the indictment that Whitaker knew of the wrongdoing,” The Tribune report added.
Now, despite having joined Obama on the golf course and courtside on multiple occasions, Obama’s Justice Department is seeking to treat Whitaker as a “hostile witness” due to his refusal to cooperate in the ongoing trial of Leon Dingle Jr., a Chicago businessman accused of stealing $3 million in taxpayer-funded state grants.
Federal prosecutors filed the hostile-witness motion Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Springfield, where Dingle is on trial. They cited three instances in which they said state grant money awarded to Dingle ended up benefiting Whitaker, who hasn’t been charged with any crime.
The motion comes after Whitaker backed off a deal he struck in 2012 to cooperate with authorities investigating fraud involving grants from the Illinois Department of Public Health, which he headed under former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
He stopped cooperating after being asked about his relationship with Quinshaunta R. Golden, who was his chief of staff at the state agency and oversaw the awarding of millions of dollars in state grants and contracts to Dingle, according to prosecutors. Prosecutors had questioned Whitaker about whether he’d had a “sexual relationship” with Golden, a lawyer for Dingle revealed at an Oct. 1 pretrial hearing.
In their 13-page motion, prosecutors said Whitaker is “a witness clearly hostile to the government” not only for refusing to cooperate, but also because of his ties to Dingle.
“Whitaker and Golden oversaw the awarding of about $4 million in state grants to Dingle between 2003 and September 2007. Dingle got another $7 million under Whitaker’s successor, Dr. Damon Arnold,” The Sun-Times report continued.
For never having done anything wrong, Eric Whitaker sure knows a lot of criminals and fraudsters. It seems he had no compunction about associating with these individuals closely while he was also spending a lot of time with the President of the United States. Chicago politics was always rather unsavory, but this is a mess. And it could get messier.
If only major newspaper’s weren’t busy assigning foreign affairs reporters to comb through the college musings of fired GOP staffer Elizabeth Lauten after she offended the media in a Facebook post critical of the president’s daughters, the national press might look into something like this.
This post has been updated since its original publication.