Monday, May 10, 2010

One Of Obama’s Closest Friends Part Of Federal Probe

Dr. Eric Whitaker, Subpoenaed by Federal Grand Jury for Corruption

E-mails and other records of Dr. Eric Whitaker -- one of President Obama's best friends -- have been subpoenaed by a federal grand jury.

The investigation involves "faith-based initiatives" and health-awareness campaigns funded by the Illinois Department of Public Health when Whitaker ran the agency for former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, according to copies of subpoenas obtained under the state's Freedom of Information Act. 

In 2003, Obama then an Illinois State Senator gave a “glowing” reference for Whitaker to now convicted felon Tony Rezko, an influential “pay to pay” power broker for the Blagojevic Administration in April of 2003 for that job, which Whitaker later landed.   The president's friend resigned in October 2007 to join Obama's wife, Michelle, as an executive at the University of Chicago Medical Center.

On Friday, Whitaker defended his work as the state's former top health official, saying he developed "new methods" to help "African-American and other minority communities" get better medical care.

"The faith-based outreach programs at issue in this inquiry were recognized during my tenure by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others as national models for increasing awareness and preparedness planning for minority populations," Whitaker said in a statement. "The programs were functioning well when I left the department in 2007."

All told, Gov. Quinn's administration turned over copies of six subpoenas sent to four state agencies that show authorities have been seeking information about a variety of health-awareness grants and programs that have cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

One sent to the health department seeks "any and all records" involving "faith-based initiatives" on subjects including "emergency preparedness," "HIV/AIDS," "cervical/breast cancer" and "pandemic flu" (see sidebar).

Five subpoenas came from a federal grand jury in Springfield, while the sixth came from a grand jury in Chicago. The most recent is dated March 30.

The U.S. attorney's offices in Springfield and Chicago declined to comment, as did the White House.

Whitaker and his former chief of staff, Quin Golden, are named in a Nov. 23, 2009, subpoena in which authorities asked state officials to produce their "e-mail and other electronic storage accounts" from "January 2007 to present."

Here are some of the organizations named in recent federal grand jury subpoenas sent to four state agencies. All started getting state funding when Dr. Eric Whitaker headed the Illinois Department of Public Health. 

  • Brothers and Sisters United Against HIV/AIDS (BASUAH): A $2.5 million "social marketing effort" announced by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Whitaker in September 2005 to fight AIDS in the African-American community. BASUAH was run by the health department, which a spokeswoman says is "fully cooperating with the subpoenas."
  • Let's Talk, Let's Test Foundation: AIDS-awareness group founded by state Rep. Connie Howard (D-Chicago) that has gotten more than $1.9 million in state money since 2006, including $1.2 million from the health department and $500,000 from the commerce department. State officials now are trying to recoup hundreds of thousands of dollars from the defunct not-for-profit, claiming the money was improperly spent. Its former executive director, Lloyd Kelly, couldn't be reached.
  • National Black Nurses' Association, Chicago Chapter: Nursing group that puts on health fairs and sponsors scholarships has received more than $905,000 in state money since 2006, including more than $391,000 from the health department. The group didn't return a message seeking comment.

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