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Tapes reveal undercover agent paying $6,000 to ex-Hillsborough Commissioner Kevin White

TAMPA — Somewhere near the rearview mirror, a hidden camera rolls as the man in the white Umbro golf shirt and shades counts $100 bills just out of view.

Fifty of them.

In the passenger seat sits then-Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin White, taking time out from a fierce re-election campaign to review his companion's tow-truck license application. The man hands $5,000 to White — for bigger campaign signs, he says.

"I want to take care of you for taking care of me," says the man White knows as Darryl Wilson.

"No question, I'm going to be there to help you," White replies, as he appears to stuff the wad into his pants pocket.

The nearly two-year public corruption probe of White was distilled to its essence at the federal courthouse in downtown Tampa on Wednesday: Two men in a car exchanging favors, a scene replayed for jurors.

It was the much-anticipated cornerstone of prosecutors' charges that White conspired to accept bribes while in office. It wasn't the White portrayed by his attorneys a day earlier — the unwitting dupe of a manipulative father they claim initiated and was the main beneficiary of the kickback scheme.

Wilson, it turns out, wasn't the import-export entrepreneur looking to get into the tow-truck business in Tampa as White believed. Instead, he was undercover FBI Agent Darryl Williams, recruited from Georgia and introduced to White by a confidential informer.

Their meeting, in a parking lot outside a LongHorn Steakhouse where they had both just had lunch, was also captured in photographs from another Tampa-based FBI agent. That agent, Deven Williams, introduced photos of the two leaving the restaurant, White in jeans and a lemon yellow button-down shirt.

Deven Williams testified that he provided his fellow agent the cash, recording the serial numbers of the bills. That money, he said, never turned up in White's campaign account. Florida law prohibits individuals from donating more than $500 to state and local candidates during each election cycle.

Agents questioned White at his Riverview home about the $5,000 payment, Deven Williams said. White denied four times that he took any money.

The June 4, 2010, lunch was preceded by a series of conversations recorded by agents and played for jurors Wednesday. The undercover agent is heard pressing White for his help securing a tow-truck operator license and a spot on a lucrative rotational list that police use to summon wreckers.

Increasingly, White is heard referencing his campaign and the need to raise cash because he had a campaign opponent — former state legislator Les Miller.

During a May 28, 2010, call, the agent asks White how much he needs to raise. White says he needs to "beat the streets" for ten, meaning $10,000.

So the agent offers to match that amount, half before his tow-truck application is submitted and half after it's approved and he secures a spot on the police rotation list.

"I'm going to do whatever I can do to walk (it) through," White says of the application.

Jurors also heard of another alleged payment from the agent to White weeks earlier.

The $1,000 payment came in a car right after an April 29, 2010, dinner at Ruth's Chris Steak House between White and the agent, who again was seeking White's help in his capacity as chairman of the Public Transportation Commission. The PTC regulates tow trucks, limousines, cabs and other cars for hire and White was one of Hillsborough County's appointed representatives to the board.

Again, White told the agent he could help his application for the license sail through the PTC.

"It comes before us, it gets approved," White said. "I make sure it's approved. That ain't a problem."

White is accused with his father, the late Gerald White, of accepting $8,000 in bribes and a used Lincoln Navigator, in exchange for helping three men vying to start new tow truck businesses. His father died before White was charged in June with 10 counts that include bribery, conspiracy and mail fraud.

Prosecutors say tow-truck drivers George Hondrellis, also charged with White, and Peter Rockefeller, working with the FBI as an informer, first approached the elder White in 2009 seeking his assistance. Rockefeller subsequently introduced the undercover agent to both Whites.

White's defense was only beginning to cross-examine Deven Williams, the agent who was introducing dozens of audio recordings, at the end of the day Wednesday.

Lead defense attorney Grady Irvin Jr. said in opening statements Tuesday that Gerald White, absent in his illegitimate son's life until he became a commissioner, was the instigator in soliciting payoffs. He also said White neither did, nor was in a position to do, anything to help his suitors.

Times staff writer Stephanie Bolling contributed to this report.

White on tape

Authorities taped a May 28, 2010, conversation between then-Hillsborough Commissioner Kevin White and FBI Agent Darryl Williams, who was posing as a businessman named Darryl Wilson:

KEVIN WHITE: I'm in heavy campaign mode, scraping up funds. . . . In [the] next two weeks, got to beat the streets for 10 [thousand dollars].

DARRYL WILSON: It's a two-way street.

WHITE: Drop off [your company's] application . . . make sure my people get it.

WILSON: Half up front, half after we finish. I'll bring half when I come. . . . Do we need to take sheriff out to dinner?

WHITE: Let's see how it goes.

In their own words

Then-Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin White spoke on numerous occasions with a man he knew as Darryl Wilson. What White didn't know was "Wilson" was an undercover FBI agent named Darryl Williams and all of their meetings and calls were being recorded.

June 4, 2010

DARRYL WILSON: Well, I want to take care of you later. … If you're not there to help …

KEVIN WHITE: I'll be there to help.

WILSON (pulling out money): How much is there? I'll give you the rest later.

WHITE: Eighteen.

WILSON: Eighteen, nineteen — that's two, 3-4-5-6-7-8-9-, that's four [thousand].

WHITE: I think so.

On July 8, 2010, White brought up the killing of two Tampa police officers. (At the time, White was running for re-election to the Hillsborough County Commission. Dontae Morris has since been charged with the killings.)

WHITE: I was out looking for the m-----f-----. I wanted the publicity. … Catch him, lock him, throw [him] in [the] trunk of a car. … [I] didn't care about the reward. I wanted to call the media. Get the camera ready … I'm bringing in the ... If I could bring him in …

WILSON: This election is over.

Feb. 25, 2011 phone call between towing company operator and confidential informant Peter Rockefeller and Kevin White's father, Gerald White Sr.

ROCKEFELLER: I had the damn FBI come to my place … They were asking a bunch of questions about Kevin … I think I might want to keep a low profile.

(Gerald White then refers to the 2003 Lincoln Navigator that Rockefeller gave to him in 2010, allegedly as a way to gain favor with Kevin White.)

GERALD WHITE: If (the) FBI says anything just tell them I give you $100 a week for the truck ... Do you understand, Pete? ... We don't need no trouble.

Tapes reveal undercover agent paying $6,000 to ex-Hillsborough Commissioner Kevin White 11/02/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 2, 2011 11:31pm]
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