Another federal courtroom, another trial for Kevin White. Sigh.
As the bribery case against the once-powerful local politician unfolded Tuesday, his defense sounded awfully similar to when he was accused of sexually harassing his young aide in 2009: Wasn't me. The old guy did it.
At that first trial, White denied chasing a woman half his age and firing her because she wasn't interested. Really, he said, he was just trying to help hook up the 22-year-old woman with an influential 77-year-old businessman. Nothing wrong with that, right?
This time around, his lawyer said, White's since-deceased father is to blame.
It's an intriguing defense, actually, and maybe his only hope: showing another side of a guy we've come to know for headlines about scandals like using campaign money to buy himself fancy Italian suits.
His lawyer, Grady Irvin Jr., told the story well: White was the illegitimate son of a storied Tampa family, the boy with his face pressed to the glass. When he was 10, his father, Gerald White, finally brought him a bike for Christmas. He was riding it for about an hour when police stopped him because it was stolen.
But, Irvin said, that same "master manipulator" of a father was front and center after White became a Tampa city councilman and then Hillsborough County commissioner, shaking people down for money in his son's name. Other alleged master manipulators in this tale seemed to include everyone from the confidential informant to the undercover FBI agent to the government itself.
But if the 160-plus taped conversations as well as video show the jury even half of what U.S. Attorney Bobby O'Neill outlined — promises of lucrative business for tow truck operators with cash in hand because White chaired the Public Transportation Commission, a grand handed over at a fancy steak house meal, that sort of thing — sad stories won't matter much at verdict time.
The jury, selected from several Florida counties, probably knew little of White's headline-making history. Heck, when they read the witness lists aloud, including the names of popular former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco and embattled former County Commissioner Brian Blair, each a headline-maker in his own right, potential jurors did not seem to know them, even.
(I had to call Greco, who turns up in the darnedest places, to see why he made the list. He had no idea, except family patriarch Moses White had been a dear friend.)
Somber at the defense table, White has lost some of his swagger — swagger he seemed to keep even after that first jury believed her and not him and still evident when he shrugged off sticking taxpayers with legal bills. Maybe it started to wane when voters finally said enough of this guy.
But now it's not just some tawdry tale of a married man hitting on a young woman. It's not just losing your commission seat and your status as somebody in this town because you violated the public trust. Now it's his freedom at stake. That's a sad tale in its own right, one about a waste and a disgrace.
Sitting in that courtroom made me think of another public figure in another trial seven years ago, Tampa's former housing chief Steve LaBrake. When a federal jury convicted him on corruption charges, he seemed smaller, somehow — just another flawed man, awaiting his fate.