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Kevin White's defense suggests money was for campaign, not bribes

TAMPA — Attorneys defending former Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin White at his public corruption trial spent the day Monday planting seeds.

Jurors heard testimony about his late father's failing health, struggles just to pay the rent and willingness to ask others for money. They heard about White helping constituents without asking for anything in return. And they were told of the practice of politicians doling out hundreds of dollars in cash — street money — to campaign workers.

The testimony was aimed at reinforcing the narrative lead defense attorney Grady Irvin Jr. laid out during opening statement last week: that his client's father, Gerald White Sr., instigated the events leading to his son's federal trial on bribery and fraud charges.

"The evidence is going to show Kevin White is a politician," Irvin said then. "That's all the evidence is going to show."

Irvin will attempt to assemble those nuggets into reasonable doubt when both sides make closing arguments today.

White, 46, faces 10 criminal counts. The federal government has accused him and his father of conspiring to accept $8,000 and a used Lincoln Navigator for helping tow truck drivers win licenses and a spot on rotating lists police use when they need a car impounded.

At the time, White served as chairman of the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission, which regulates cars for hire and wreckers.

Nathan Hondrellis, whose father, George Hondrellis, is separately charged with attempting to bribe White through payments to Gerald White, said his father and Gerald White knew each other for years. The younger Hondrellis said he saw his father give Gerald White $2,000.

But he said the money was to help Gerald White cover mounting medical bills. Nathan Hondrellis said his father commonly gave others money and did so this time because the two were working toward opening a restaurant.

"He wasn't worried about getting repaid," he said.

Joseph Robinson, an engineer and friend of White's who has known his family, said the commissioner and his father were estranged for years. But that was the extent to which Irvin reinforced claims made in his opening statement that the elder White showed no interest in his illegitimate son until he became an elected official.

Robinson said he worked on Kevin White's campaign. He said White engaged in a common practice of handing out "street" or "pocket money" — cash to people who do things like wave signs outside polling sites.

"You carry cash with you and pay for those services," he said.

Irvin has suggested that some $6,000 White personally received from an undercover agent was given as campaign money. The prosecution has pointed out that the money was never reported.

White lost the Democratic primary last year.

U.S. District Judge James D. Whittemore rejected Irvin's request that jurors consider whether White was entrapped.

Irvin argued that White got involved after receiving repeated overtures from towing operator Peter Rockefeller, who was an informer, and an undercover FBI agent. He said the agent called White repeatedly, posing as a tow truck company investor offering campaign money for White's help with a license.

U.S. Attorney Robert O'Neill countered, and the judge agreed, that the defense failed to show White resisted the offer. Whittemore said recorded conversations suggest White was receptive.

The judge also rejected Irvin's request to have the four bribery counts tossed on grounds that the Public Transportation Commission does not receive federal money the law was meant to protect. The judge noted White was appointed by virtue of serving on the County Commission, and the county gets federal money.

Kevin White's defense suggests money was for campaign, not bribes 11/07/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 8, 2011 12:06am]
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