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Lawyer wants delay in Kevin White bribery trial

TAMPA — Is the man at the heart of the bribery case against former Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin White sane?

White's attorney is asking a judge to delay White's federal trial, scheduled to open Monday, so he has time to prepare a defense that may attack the credibility of a co-defendant whose own attorneys call "delusional."

At a hearing Tuesday, lawyer Grady Irvin Jr. told a judge that co-defendant George Hondrellis' mental competency is critical to White's defense because his secretly recorded statements are a pillar of the government's case.

And some of those statements, Irvin said, raise questions about Hondrellis he may explore at trial.

On Friday, a judge ordered Hondrellis, owner of Tampa City Towing, into custody for a 30-day mental health evaluation after his attorneys told the court about his increasingly odd behavior.

U.S. District Court Judge James D. Whittemore told attorneys he was inclined to try White alone as scheduled, starting Monday. Hondrellis would have to be tried separately if he is declared competent by doctors.

Whittemore is expected to decide whether he should grant a continuance after more legal argument at a hearing today.

Prosecutors say Hondrellis initiated talks of bribing White to win his influence in obtaining a towing license for a new company to be controlled by Hondrellis and a government informer.

Irvin filed a court motion with quotes by Hondrellis from a secret recording made by the informer.

Irvin's motion said that White's defense "must now center, in part, on the fact that the prosecution of this case is, in part, based upon ... someone who may very well have a history of delusional thoughts, psychosis and associated mental health matters."

In a partial transcript in the motion, Hondrellis is hard to follow, many of his words making no apparent sense.

"Hey, when you went to see that county commissioner, what'd you tell him?" the informer asks.

"I knew right away he was on the cuff because he really don't wanna work on the system," Hondrellis answered. "He don't give a damn like all the others."

But in this snippet, Hondrellis refers to another former commissioner, not White.

Elsewhere, Hondrellis talks about a "cop family" merging with a county commissioner to get towing business, Irvin said. At one point, Hondrellis talks nonsensically about former Hillsborough Commissioner Rose Ferlita being related to mobsters.

Hondrellis also refers to a popular movie as he talks about supposed mob control of Hillsborough government.

"Remember Goodfellas on TV?" he asks. "The true mob. The hit man. That's who they are. They're related in with the goodfellas ... They're all related. All a big circle. ... Where they all got power of the liquor, the towing, the money, the drugstores, everything like this. And they hold the commissioner seats and everything."

White was indicted in June on 10 felony charges, including bribery, conspiracy, wire fraud, mail fraud and lying to an FBI agent.

Prosecutors say White and his late father schemed to collect $8,000 in bribes and a 2003 Lincoln Navigator while White served on the Public Transportation Commission before losing re-election in November.

Lawyer wants delay in Kevin White bribery trial 09/20/11 [Last modified: Friday, September 23, 2011 11:00am]
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