TAMPA — The owner of a local towing company who was indicted with former Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin White pleaded not guilty Thursday to federal corruption charges.
George Hondrellis, 45, said nothing during a brief hearing in U.S. District Court. His attorney, Chinwe Fossett, told the court Hondrellis had hired the high-profile legal firm headed by Tampa attorney Barry Cohen.
"We're going to investigate the case," Fossett, a member of Cohen's firm, said after the hearing. "Our position is that he is innocent and he is presumed innocent."
Hondrellis, owner of Tampa City Towing, appeared in court wearing an orange, long-sleeved shirt with a biblical quotation on the back: "It is required of stewards that they be found faithful," the shirt said.
As he walked out of the courthouse, Hondrellis said he was headed right back to work.
"I just do what I do," he said.
White pleaded not guilty last week to 10 felony charges, including bribery, conspiracy, wire fraud, mail fraud and lying to an FBI agent. Hondrellis faces identical charges, except for lying to the FBI.
The indictment said White and his late father, Gerald White, schemed to take $8,000 in bribes and a 2003 Lincoln Navigator from three men, one of whom was Hondrellis. The charges carry maximum sentences ranging from five to 20 years in prison.
The three men said they wanted a permit from the county Public Transportation Commission, which White chaired, to be put on a lucrative list of towing companies doing work for the Tampa Police Department and Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, an indictment said.
Unknown to White, who was once a Tampa City Council member and former police officer, one of the men was a federal agent and another was a government informant.
White left office in November after being trounced in a Democratic primary.
William R. Levesque can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3432.