AUGUST 09, 2013
Is the Obama Justice Department going easy on a close friend, advisor and donor of the president who headed an Illinois public health agency embroiled in a widespread kickback scheme?
It’s starting to seem like it, considering several underlings have been criminally charged while the guy in charge of the agency, Obama’s longtime pal, appears to be untouchable. The story involves Dr. Eric Whitaker, a member of Obama’s tight-knit circle of friends from Chicago’s Hyde Park. Illinois’s convicted felon governor (Rod Blagojevich) appointed Whitaker health director in 2003 after Obama, a state senator at the time, recommended him.
After four years as state health director Whitaker left to work with Michelle Obama at the University of Chicago Medical Center, though his legacy of corruption evidently lives on. This week Dr. Whitaker’s chief of staff at the Illinois Department of Public Health, Quinshaunta Golden, got indicted for conspiring with state grant recipients to steal federal money. The feds assert that the operation involved $433,000 in government funds.
In a related case a few years ago, a Chicago nurse was criminally charged for stealing half a million taxpayer dollars from minority outreach programs. Guess what agency gave her the money? The Illinois Department of Public Health under the leadership of Whitaker. When Whitaker gave the woman, Margaret Davis, the money she was head of the Chicago Chapter of the National Black Nurses Association.
When that story broke in 2011 details surfaced that indicated Whitaker was involved, or at the very least knew about the operation. For instance during his four-year tenure as state health director, his agency spent millions of taxpayer dollars on highly questionable publicity campaigns to educate African-American and other minorities about common diseases in their communities, mainly AIDS.
Nearly $600,000 of it went to Davis and her Black Nurses Association, which received an additional half a million dollars in state grants from other agencies. Whitaker referred to the corrupt nurse as “the ultimate advocate for health care and human services” and even gave her a no-bid contract to train college nursing students in administrative areas.
Similar minority programs, many of them “faith-based,” also received big chunks of taxpayer dollars from Whitaker’s agency while he was in charge. Among them is a defunct AIDS awareness program that has been sued by the Illinois Attorney General’s office for misspending $523,546.
Whitaker claims to have “no firsthand knowledge” about the fraud at his agency, according to a statement he issued to the Chicago newspaper that broke the Golden indictment this week. The same article quotes the federal prosecutor handling the case, James Lewis, U.S. Attorney for the Central District of Illinois, assuring that Obama is not linked to the case. Keep in mind that Obama gave Lewis his job in 2010.
So is Dr. Whitaker, who incidentally golfed with Obama to celebrate the president’s birthday last week, in prosecutors’ sights? It’s a valid question posed by the reporter. The short answer is a resounding no, but here is Lewis’s complete response: “At this point, the evidence has taken us to Quin Golden, and the evidence has not taken us farther. There’s nothing in the material you have today that leads toward an answer to that question.”
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