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Law agencies: Former Hillsborough Commissioner White didn't hold sway over who got towing jobs

TAMPA — If former Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin White promised influence in exchange for towing jobs, it was influence that didn't matter.

Hillsborough's two largest law enforcement agencies say a request from White wouldn't have persuaded them to add a towing company to a list they use when they need vehicles hauled away.

The Sheriff's Office hasn't added a company in about a decade. It has about 30, which is plenty, said Col. Greg Brown.

And the Tampa Police Department adds any towing company as long as it's within city limits and certified by the Public Transportation Commission.

"You get one tow, and then you go to the bottom of the list," said police spokeswoman Laura McElroy. "It's a foolproof system."

White and his late father, Gerald, were accused this week by the U.S. Attorney's Office of promising several men help in getting on these lists, accepting $8,000 in bribes and a 2003 Lincoln Navigator in return.

A federal indictment filed Wednesday states Kevin White called the Sheriff's Office twice in June, attempting to get one company — Tri-County Auto Towing Inc. — on the rotational list.

The call didn't do any good.

The Sheriff's Office declined to describe White's calls or name the recipient. Brown said White's request held no weight, and Tri-County was not added to the list.

"Adding a company is based on need," Brown said. "If we needed someone, we'd open it up and have anyone who's eligible apply.

"If we don't have a need, we aren't going to open something up just because an individual asked us to or told us to."

White could not be reached for comment Thursday. His attorney, Grady Irvin, said he doesn't want to comment on the case and that it will be difficult to seat a jury because of the publicity.

According to the indictment, White also promised to help a tow permit application "sail through" the Public Transportation Commission, which he chaired at the time.

A permit wouldn't guarantee a spot on any law enforcement list because the commission only qualifies which companies are eligible. But it would get the company one step closer.

The PTC staff does the legwork for the agencies, completing criminal background checks and truck inspections.

One person who wouldn't meet the PTC's requirements is George Hondrellis, the Tampa City Towing owner indicted along with White. Hondrellis is accused of initiating discussions with the commissioner's father.

His criminal record dates to 1983, and its 25 arrests include charges of grand theft, aggravated assault with a shotgun, drug possession and burglary.

He made news when he was arrested in 1996 on charges he had over the course of a few months towed legally parked cars from city streets and private property, then charged car owners $100 to $300 for their return. Records show several charges from that period were dropped.

His son, Nathan, said that his father had been in business 27 years and that he will be cleared of the indictment.

"It's all a joke, anyway," he said in a phone interview Thursday. "It's a big publicity stunt."

George Hondrellis could be heard shouting in the background of the interview, saying reporters should look at records of other towing companies.

George Hondrellis often called the PTC staff to complain about his competition, said Mario Tamargo, chief inspector for the PTC. Records that would show whether Hondrellis was ever certified by PTC were not available Thursday, but Tamargo said he didn't think Hondrellis had been.

"He knows he can't get on rotation because of his criminal record," Tamargo said.

That didn't stop Hondrellis from asking about it in late 2009. The PTC sent him a form on Nov. 23, 2009, describing the certification requirements and reminding him that the commission has no control over law enforcement's rotational lists.

Hondrellis didn't return a completed form in his name, Tamargo said.

The indictment states a month earlier, in October 2009, Hondrellis had met with an informer about setting up a towing company to get on the lists.

On Nov. 19, 2009, Hondrellis told the informer he paid $2,000 to White's father, Gerald, to get a new company on the lists.

A few years ago, Hondrellis asked to join the Hillsborough Towing Association but the board declined, said its president, Steve Allen.

"Everybody worries about your reputation, and when you get one bad egg, it makes the whole cart stink," said Allen, president of Port Tampa Towing.

Times news researcher John Martin contributed to this report.

Law agencies: Former Hillsborough Commissioner White didn't hold sway over who got towing jobs 06/16/11 [Last modified: Thursday, June 16, 2011 10:45pm]
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