Witness testifies Meadow Lands man planned claim against North Franklin mall

January 16, 2013

A former co-worker of a Meadow Lands man accused of trying to extort $100,000 from a North Franklin Township mall testified Wednesday that he was offered a role in the scheme but turned it down.

Kenneth R. Whitaker, 42, of 538 Pike St., is charged with attempted theft by deception, attempted theft by extortion, criminal solicitation of theft by extortion, filing a fraudulent insurance claim, criminal solicitation of theft by deception and insurance fraud, court records show.

According to testimony at his preliminary hearing, Whitaker, a former kiosk worker at Washington Crown Center, called Michael Joyce, the mall’s general manager, in August to complain that a woman and small child had walked in on him while he was in a family restroom with his pants down. Joyce testified that the restroom’s lock was broken at the time. He said he contacted the mall’s corporate attorney, and an insurance claim adjuster was sent to take a statement from Whitaker. Court records indicate that Whitaker demanded $100,000 for the embarrassing incident.

Whitaker was charged after North Franklin Township police spoke with a witness who alleged that Whitaker had planned to put himself in an unflattering position in order to make a claim against the mall.

Shane Bell, who had worked with Whitaker at a North Franklin restaurant, testified that Whitaker asked him in June 2011 to be an accomplice in the scheme, but he turned down the offer. He said Whitaker knew the restroom’s lock was broken and offered him money to be the person to walk in. Bell testified that he sent the mall’s management a report online about Whitaker’s plot a month or two after the man had approached him, but he did not immediately contact police.

Whitaker’s attorney, Keith Campbell, said his client is being punished as retaliation for filing a claim against the mall. He asked that the charges against Whitaker be dismissed.

Assistant District Attorney Justin Papciak argued otherwise, saying, “It wasn’t just an innocent incident.”

District Judge Robert Redlinger denied Whitaker’s request and held the charges for court. Whitaker remains free on $25,000 bond.

Andy McNeil has been with the Observer-Reporter since 2011 as a general assignment reporter. He covers courts and education, and also serves as a photographer and videographer. He graduated from Pennsylvania State University, The Behrend College, with a degree in English; Duquense University with a post-baccalaureate paralegal certificate, and Point Park University with a graduate degree in journalism and mass communication.

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