Wednesday, June 20, 2018
News Roundup

Once imprisoned for bribery, former Hillsborough commissioner turns author

TAMPA — Joe Kotvas rearranged his $17.99 paperbacks, his $30 hardcovers, his "military historian/author" business cards.

"It's my first book signing," he said. "I'm a little nervous."

Kotvas was standing Monday evening in the entryway of the Charles J. Fendig Public Library to promote his new book, Men of the Invisible War, a self-published history of the Japanese occupation of two Aleutian islands during World War II.

The book, Kotvas says, is a 25-year labor of love and testament to the power of second chances.

In 1983, Kotvas was one of three Hillsborough County commissioners arrested as part of a public corruption investigation. He served five years of a 12-year federal prison sentence for taking a bribe in exchange for a favorable zoning vote.

Since his release in 1990, he has posited other routes to redemption, mainly via elected office. He has run, and lost, three times for public office, most recently a 2004 run for Hillsborough's School Board. He said then that he wanted to inspire students. "I'm trying to show them no matter how bad things get, no matter how dark things get, you can turn your life around," he said in 2004.

But it's just as well he lost those races, he said Monday. He said everything that went into the book — combing through declassified military documents, interviewing veterans' families — is what really helped sustain him.

"I listened to other people's misery and suffering," said Kotvas, 69. "I didn't have time to feel sorry for myself."

The origins of the book can be found in his darker days. He was finishing up his prison sentence at a minimum security facility located at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama when a colonel asked him to go to the basement and find some documents on World War II Japanese Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, about whom the colonel was delivering a presentation.

Kotvas said that research led him to learn about the Japanese presence in the Aleutian chain of islands off the coast of Alaska.

He grew interested and kept researching after he got out, even as he struggled to find work — he's now an X-ray technician — and raise his youngest son. The about-the-author section of the book contains a paragraph about his time in federal prison in the public corruption case.

On Monday, former Tampa City Council member and Hillsborough County Commissioner Joe Chillura — also a friend — said he'd read the book and was impressed. "He's been at it for a long time," he said.

By early evening, only half a dozen people, all of them friends of Kotvas, had shown up at the book signing. They filed into a room to wait for Kotvas to make his presentation. The author was reluctant to leave his table.

"You want to give it a few more minutes?" he asked of Chillura. "People are just getting off work."

But after a while, no one else appeared to be coming. So Kotvas went into the room to talk about the men in his book. He said they'd been forgotten by history. "I'm trying," he said, "to give them a chance at a second life."

Jodie Tillman can be reached at [email protected].

Comments
Rays journal: 7 pitches, 3 straight homers prove too much in loss to Astros

Rays journal: 7 pitches, 3 straight homers prove too much in loss to Astros

HOUSTON — The Rays were engaged in a third straight tight, go-either-way battle with the defending champ Astros on Wednesday.Until they were not.A brutal seven-pitch sequence by starter Nathan Eovaldi changed everything, as he gave up three con...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Rays see the results of keeping a good, young core group together

Rays see the results of keeping a good, young core group together

HOUSTON — The Rays saw a lot on the weeklong trip that ended with Wednesday's game against that Astros, beyond the street hustlers prowling in Times Square and the urban cowboys and girls parading through H-town.There was an impressive debuting...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Kevin Knox poised to become Tampa Bay’s highest NBA draft pick

Kevin Knox poised to become Tampa Bay’s highest NBA draft pick

Kevin Knox Sr. was watching the NFL draft 24 years ago when the phone rang. Buffalo coach Marv Levy was on the other line."Marv said they were taking me," said Knox Sr., a standout receiver at FSU.Soon after, Knox Sr. saw his name scroll across ESPN'...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Lightning’s Victor Hedman wins NHL’s Norris Trophy

Lightning’s Victor Hedman wins NHL’s Norris Trophy

Victor Hedman, a relentless part of the Lightning's push to the Eastern Conference final last season, was honored Wednesday night with the Norris Trophy, given to the NHL's top defenseman."To the Lightning organization, Mr. Jeff Vinik, Steve Yzerman ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Wednesday’s Rays-Astros game

Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Wednesday’s Rays-Astros game

RHP Nathan Eovaldi said before his rough start Wednesday against the Astros that he was pitching better than his numbers showed. Well … In four starts since his six no-hit innings debut, he's 0-3 with a 6.17 ERA, allowing eight homers, four Wed...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Report: Bucs QB Jameis Winston bracing for suspension from NFL

Report: Bucs QB Jameis Winston bracing for suspension from NFL

Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston could be suspended for up to three games  next season following the league's investigation into allegations he groped a female Uber driver in Arizona in 2016, a Tallahassee radio station reported.Jeff Cameron, a&#...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Passengers on fatal Southwest flight sue airline and manufacturers of plane and engine

Passengers on fatal Southwest flight sue airline and manufacturers of plane and engine

Eight passengers who were aboard a Southwest Airlines flight that was forced to make an emergency landing in Philadelphia after one of its engines blew apart filed suit Wednesday against the airline, Boeing and the companies that manufactured the eng...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Former employee sued by Tesla says he was a whistleblower

Former employee sued by Tesla says he was a whistleblower

Tesla sued a former employee Wednesday, accusing the man of hacking the automaker’s computer systems and stealing company secrets, shedding light on what chief Elon Musk had suggested was the work of a secretive internal saboteur.But the employee, Ma...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Police: Couple leased someone else’s home to 15 families at same time

Police: Couple leased someone else’s home to 15 families at same time

LARGO — Vanessa Rodriguez thought she found the right house for her three kids, in the right neighborhood, for the right rent. She signed the lease for April 30, sent a $2,300 money order and planned to move in June 1.Then the delays started. She sai...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Clearwater wants $40 million from the county for a stadium. But there’s not $40 million to give.

Clearwater wants $40 million from the county for a stadium. But there’s not $40 million to give.

CLEARWATER —The city’s proposed $79.7 million overhaul of the Philadelphia Phillies’ spring training facilities depends on getting $40 million in bed taxes from Pinellas County.But records show even if county officials wanted to bankroll the Phillies...
Updated: 5 hours ago