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Let's use courts to clean our own house

Hey, feds.

Enough already with Max Hardcore and that consenting-adults-even-if-they-are-seriously-weird-consenting-adults porn trial out of California, which played out hour after mind-numbing hour in a Tampa courtroom.

Ditto the racketeering conspiracy case against alleged Gambino crime boss John "Junior" Gotti, which, while interesting in a Sopranos sort of way, doesn't include an accusation that he personally committed a crime on Tampa Bay terra firma.

Not since local housing chief Steve LaBrake and his bride were trundled off to prison have we seen a real clean-up-our-own-town mentality around here. Why import corruption and such when there could be plenty of the locally grown variety to consider?

Well, now that you mention it.

Turns out the FBI appears to have been looking into claims straight out of The Wire. (Maybe. Those FBI guys get awful hinky about saying what they are and aren't doing.)

The story so far: Sobering allegations center on former Tampa City Council member and current Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin White — albeit out of the mouth of a rogue con man currently behind bars.

From prison, epic mortgage fraud swindler Matthew Cox wrote letters to the Times' Jeff Testerman, Testerman being the reporter who chronicled Cox's questionable property deals.

Cox says while he was wheeling and dealing in Tampa, he met White, who was running for a City Council seat to represent some of the same regenerating neighborhoods in which Cox liked to ply his trade.

Cox claims that in exchange for him bundling a large amount of cash through his associates to turn it into smaller, legitimate campaign contributions, White agreed to vote in Cox's favor on rezonings that could help his business. Cox also says there was an outright $7,000 payoff.

White denies this, to put it mildly. He says he's a Navy veteran and former cop who has lived a life of public service while Cox is a proven liar, a thief and a con.

So now you're thinking: easy enough, just check how White voted on Cox's cases, right?

No help there. Cox went on the lam before any cases came up.

Arrested in 2006, Cox was sentenced to 26 years in prison after a plea deal in which he agreed to cooperate with investigators. His lawyer says the FBI was quite interested in what he had to say about White, though Cox says they later indicated there wasn't enough to prosecute.

For the record, White's earlier troubles in politics started out kind of amusing, like when he used more than $6,000 in campaign money to buy himself fine Italian suits and called this a "consulting" cost, getting himself a negotiated fine of $9,500.

Not so amusing is a pending sexual harassment complaint from his former aide.

Bottom line: The feds need to investigate this and all allegations of public corruption thoroughly, and then announce their findings publicly.

If White has been wronged, as he says, he deserves that.

And if there's something to what Cox has to say about his dealings with a local elected official, then the people who live and work and pay taxes here surely deserve to know that, too.

Let's use courts to clean our own house 08/07/08 [Last modified: Friday, August 8, 2008 8:29pm]
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