SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Federal prosecutors said Tuesday that they don't plan to call a friend of President Barack Obama's to testify in a trial over funds allegedly misused at the Illinois Department of Public Health after Dr. Eric Whitaker made what they describe as "baseless accusations" about racial bias.
The decision not to call Whitaker to the witness stand was announced a day after Judge Richard Mills declared Whitaker a "hostile witness" following a two-hour hearing outside the presence of a jury. That declaration would give prosecutors leeway in questioning him in the fraud case, in which Chicago businessman Leon Dingle is accused of diverting $3 million in Department of Public Health grant money for his personal use.
While Whitaker, a Chicago physician and the agency's director from 2003 to 2007, has not been accused of a crime, the U.S. attorney's office said he has reneged on an agreement to cooperate.
Whitaker said Monday he had answered "every single question but that question" referring to attorney queries about whether he had a sexual relationship his former chief of staff, Quinshaunta "Quin" Golden, who pleaded guilty in the case last spring and awaits sentencing. Whitaker described the relationship with Golden Monday as "more than friends."
"Personally," he said, "I'm upset about the process and being made to look like I'm on trial." He said what he was refusing to answer were questions about an affair.
Asked whether he considered himself a hostile witness, Whitaker described himself as "angry but not hostile."
He also expressed concerns that the grant fraud cases pursued by attorneys in the Central District Court could be racially motivated.
"Almost everybody who's been indicted or scrutinized has been African-American," Whitaker said. He said he did not support a "selective investigation."
The White House and Justice Department have not responded to requests for comment on the matter. And Whitaker's spokeswoman did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
The government has charged Dingle and his wife, Karin, with fraud, money laundering and tax evasion for allegedly using more than $3 million in grant funds intended for AIDS awareness and other public health programs on luxury cars, a yacht club and vacations.
In addition to his ties to Golden, the government says Whitaker was an "approving official" of DPH grants during the time millions of dollars went to Dingle groups.
Dingle's lawyers argue that Whitaker's interactions with Dingle were rare, short-lived, produced insignificant benefits and are seven-year-old history.
While Whitaker acknowledged Monday that he was at times part of the grant approval process, he said he "did not participate and had no knowledge" of fraudulent activities that were going on.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Bass told Mills on Tuesday that in light of the comments Whitaker made Monday, he'd planned to work with defense attorneys to "reach an agreement on exhibits" that Whitaker's testimony was included in. He called Whitaker's comments "completely baseless accusations that the witness made."
Prosecutors said they planned to call one more witness in the trial, now in its seventh week.
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