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Prosecutors will not call Obama friend Eric Whitaker to the stand

Eric Whitaker leaves the Federal courthouse in Springfield on Monday, December 8, 2014. | Al Podgorski / Sun-Times Media

BY CHRIS FUSCO

SPRINGFIELD — Federal prosecutors said Tuesday they will not call one of President Barack Obama’s closest friends, Dr. Eric E. Whitaker, before a jury hearing a multimillion dollar grand-fraud case because of “baseless accusations” they say Whitaker leveled the day before.

The government “is not going to call Dr. Whitaker as a witness,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy A. Bass told Judge Richard Mills, who ruled Monday that Whitaker would have been a “hostile witness” had prosecutors decided to call him. “I’ve so advised counsel for the defendants.”

Bass grilled Whitaker for more than two hours Monday before Mills without jurors present. Prosecutors had sought to declare him “hostile” because he stopped cooperating with them in 2012 after they asked him if he’d had a “personal relationship” with his former chief of staff, Quin Golden — and also because they’d learned he’d frequently communicated with the main defendant in their case, Chicago businessman Leon Dingle Jr.

Dingle, 77, is accused of conspiring with his wife, Karin Dingle, 75, to steal more than $3 million in no-bid state grants and contracts that began flowing when Whitaker headed the Illinois Department of Public Health between 2003 and 2007.

The 49-year-old Chicago physician became combative with Bass at the end of the hearing, suggesting racial bias was behind a wave of fraud cases brought by the Justice Department in the Central District of Illinois. Nine of the 10 people charged in those cases are black.

“Almost everybody who’s been indicted or scrutinized has been African American,” Whitaker said, also saying he’s against “selective” investigations.

“Personally, I’m upset about this process and how I’ve been made to look like I’m on trial,” Whitaker later said.

Without going into detail, Bass said Tuesday the government would not call Whitaker as a witness because of the “baseless accusations” Whitaker made in his testimony. “I’ll leave it at that,” Bass also said.

Instead, prosecutors plan to introduce photographs, emails and other evidence involving Whitaker into the trial.

Whitaker’s attorney did not anticipate that the Dingles would be calling Whitaker to the stand either.

One of the Dingles’ atttorneys revealed in an Oct. 1 pretrial hearing that Whitaker had “answered every single question posed to him by the government other than the question of whether or not he had, in fact, this sexual relationship with Quin Golden.”

Prosecutors on Monday didn’t ask that question of Whitaker, who with his wife and family often vacation with the Obamas. The closest they got was asking Whitaker if his relationship with Golden was “more than professional.”

“That’s fair to say,” Whitaker replied, not elaborating.