Crime

Obama’s Golfing Buddy a Key Figure in Illinois Corruption Case

President Barack Obama plays golf with longtime friend Dr. Eric Whitaker on the 10th green of the course at Grove Park Inn in Asheville, N.C., Friday, April 23, 2010. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

As 2013 was winding down, Dr. Eric Whitaker was a consistent golfing partner for President Barack Obama in Hawaii. Now, Obama prepares to head to Hawaii shortly after Whitaker -- his old friend from Chicago -- was accused of being a hostile witness in a case about fraud in the state agency he once ran.

A federal jury in Springfield, Illinois, convicted Leon and Karin Dingle on Wednesday. The two faced charges of conspiracy, mail fraud and money laundering as federal prosecutors said they attained and made personal use of more than $3 million in grants from the Illinois Department of Public Health.  The fraud reportedly occurred from 2004 to 2010.

FILE - In this April 23, 2014, file photo, President Barack Obama, left, fist bumps with Dr. Eric Whitaker on a golf course at Grove Park Inn in Asheville, N.C. Federal prosecutors are putting pressure on Whitaker, the former Illinois public health director, and friend of President Obama, to cooperate in an ongoing investigation of a state grant scandal. Whitaker is not accused of any wrongdoing, but prosecutors declared him a "hostile" witness in the case, rejecting his claims to be fully cooperating with a probe into others, including a former employee. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File) In this April 23, 2014, file photo, President Barack Obama, left, fist bumps with Dr. Eric Whitaker on a golf course at Grove Park Inn in Asheville, N.C. Federal prosecutors are putting pressure on Whitaker, the former Illinois public health director, and friend of President Obama, to cooperate in an ongoing investigation of a state grant scandal. Whitaker is not accused of any wrongdoing, but prosecutors declared him a "hostile" witness in the case, rejecting his claims to be fully cooperating with a probe into others, including a former employee. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

Whitaker – though not charged in the case – was the director of the state’s Department of Public Health from 2003 through 2007 under then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Whitaker’s chief of staff, Quinshaunta Golden, was charged for her role in doling out many of the grants and pleaded guilty in the case.

Springfield-based U.S. Attorney James Lewis told the Chicago Tribune the investigation that led to the indictment of dozen others people for state grant abuse “goes on until we come to the end.” But, Lewis said, Whitaker “is not a target” of the probe for “any type of charge.”

The White House did not immediately respond to an inquiry from TheBlaze as to whether Whitaker would be joining the president in Hawaii this year.

Whitaker made news earlier this month telling prosecutors he was concerned the case was racially motivated. Prosecutors called Whitaker a “hostile witness.” Attorney General Eric Holder denied the case was racially charged when talking last week to the Chicago Sun-Times.

In 2012, Whitaker denied an allegation that he sought on behalf of candidate Obama to bribe the president’s former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, into not talking about Obama. Author and former journalist Edward Klein made the allegation in his 2012 book, “The Amateur,” about Obama’s first term in the White House.

Whitaker and his wife Cheryl know the first family well, the Sun-Times reported, having attended first lady Michelle Obama’s 50th birthday party at the White House in January. In June 2012, the Whitakers and the Obamas attended the wedding of senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett’s daughter.

Last year in Hawaii, Whitaker was among others who jointed Obama for golfing on Dec. 23, 26, 29 and 30, according to White House press pool reports.  Whitaker also golfed with the president this year in April, July and August, according to other pool reports.

After leaving the state job, Whitaker became a vice president at the University of Chicago Medical Center.

One last thing…
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