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Thursday, Oct 19, 2017
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Jury finds Kevin White guilty on 7 out of 10 corruption charges

TAMPA - In the end, it was probably the audio and video recordings of a county commissioner asking for and taking cash that sank Kevin White in the eyes of federal jurors. The seven-woman, five-man jury deliberated about six hours Tuesday and Wednesday before finding White guilty of seven out of 10 counts in a public corruption case. Each count carries a maximum sentence of five to 15 years, though federal judges have leeway in sentencing, including whether the time would be served consecutively or concurrently. U.S. District Judge James D. Whittemore is scheduled to sentence White Feb. 27 at 1:30 p.m. During the eight-day trial, jurors were presented with 165 audio and video recordings along with transcripts. One video showed White accepting $5,000 from an undercover federal agent while sitting in the agent's car.
U.S. Attorney Robert O'Neill, who prosecuted the case, said he considered the recordings the most important factor in the convictions. "The jury had the opportunity to hear word for word what was going on," O'Neill said Wednesday after the verdicts were returned. Juror Linda Friedt of Lakeland agreed, saying the videotape was especially compelling. "The one that was on video," she said, "I can't speak for anybody else, but that was the one for me." Friedt said jurors followed Whittemore's admonitions not to watch the news or read newspapers during the trial. They wanted to be as fair as possible, she said. "I felt everybody was very careful that we just checked the facts," she said. "We really deliberated a long time. We're trying to be as fair as possible." White, 46, was accused of taking bribes to help wrecker companies get on a law enforcement towing rotation. He was a county commissioner at the time and also chaired the Public Transportation Commission, a board that regulates wreckers and other vehicles for hire. The FBI started investigating White in the fall of 2009 after a towing company owner, Pete Rockefeller volunteered to help agents investigate corruption in the transportation commission. Rockefeller had been removed from the police rotation and felt the system was unfair. Rockefeller agreed to wear a wire and captured conversations with White, the commissioner's father, Gerald, and George Hondrellis, another towing company owner. Hondrellis was later charged with conspiring with Kevin and Gerald White in the bribery scheme. His trial was delayed after the court ordered him to undergo a mental evaluation. There has been no determination on the evaluation yet, according to O'Neill's office. The jury's verdict was announced at 11:38 a.m. White appeared shaken but stared steadily at the court clerk as she read each verdict. Afterwards, he walked to the back of the courtroom and embraced his wife, Jennie. The couple walked out hand in hand, making no comments to reporters. "You just have to respect the verdict," said White's defense attorney, Grady Irvin, as he walked to his car. "This has just been a sad situation." White was found guilty of: He was found not guilty of two counts of bribery and one count of honest services, mail fraud. O'Neill said the not guilty verdicts on bribery referred to $2,000 Rockefeller gave to Gerald White. The government failed to convince jurors that the money was passed on to Kevin White, though one payment of $1,000 was made in the commissioner's presence. The mail fraud charge related to a package that White asked Cesar Padilla, the transportation board's executive director, to send to Hondrellis. The package contained an application for PTC certification of a new wrecker service secretly formed by Rockefeller and Hondrellis with a dummy owner. Irvin said jurors returned the right verdicts with respect to charges involving Gerald White. "They found Kevin White never collaborated with the criminal conduct of his father," Irvin said. The attorney pointed out that it was Gerald White who got his son involved with Hondrellis and Rockefeller. But ultimately, Irvin said, Kevin White takes responsibility for the actions that led to his arrest. "The hotly contested race and the need to have money to finance that campaign perhaps resulted in Kevin White making decisions that were exercising poor judgment," Irvin said. The FBI spent two years investigating White for taking bribes that amounted to only $8,000. Payments made to Rockefeller for his services as a confidential informant came to $74,000. But O'Neill said the probe was justified because it showed the federal government will not tolerate corrupt politicians. "We cannot have public officials who are corrupted," he said. "It perverts our entire system of justice and the Democratic system." White will remain free on bond until he is sentenced. O'Neill said he does not consider the former commissioner a danger to society or a flight risk because of his deep ties to the community.

msalinero@tampatrib.com (813) 259-8303 rreyes@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7120
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