Sunday, November 19, 2017
News Roundup

Ex-Hillsborough Commissioner Kevin White gets prison time for corruption

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TAMPA

They came together to praise Kevin White as the loving father, the dutiful son, the doting husband.

But it wasn't the father, the husband or the son who was sentenced Monday to three years of federal prison. It was White the corrupt former Hillsborough County commissioner.

"They don't consider you a criminal," U.S. District Court Judge James Whittemore told White, referring to his family. "Unfortunately, you are. The jury has spoken."

Whittemore sentenced White to a prison term followed by three years of supervised release on federal bribery and corruption charges after an emotional 90-minute hearing. The judge also ordered White to complete 300 hours of community service and pay a $7,500 fine.

White, 47, who lives in Riverview, wiped tears from his eyes when family spoke on his behalf, but he displayed no reaction as the judge imposed sentence.

Dressed in a dark, pin-striped suit, White sat for much of the hearing with his hands clasped on the table in front of him, as if he were in prayer.

White's sentencing marks the end of a tumultuous political career that took him to the Tampa City Council in 2003, then the Hillsborough County Commission, and finally to a prison cell.

It's a career that saw numerous controversies, from campaign funds being used to buy expensive suits to accusations he sexually harassed a female aide.

The judge said White, who lost a bid for re-election to the County Commission in 2010, can report to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons later, rather than be taken into custody now. A date is not yet set.

Whittemore said White's case was an ugly reminder of corruption on the Hillsborough commission in the 1980s. That's when a grand jury labeled the County Commission an "ongoing criminal enterprise" and three commissioners were accused of taking bribes in zoning cases.

Whittemore, looking out at a courtroom with about 30 of White's family and friends, said he read 72 letters in support of White.

"They spoke volumes about a side of you the public doesn't know about," he said. But the judge said White's illegal acts "overshadowed all the good you have done for your constituents."

White was convicted in November on seven charges, including conspiracy, bribery and wire fraud, after a trial where jurors heard evidence that he directly took $6,000 in bribes from an undercover FBI agent posing as a businessman. The agent said he wanted White's influence as chairman of the Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission.

White, as a commissioner, served as the chair of the PTC, which regulates vehicles for hire. PTC approval was necessary before a towing company could be placed on a lucrative list of tow trucks used by law enforcement.

But White was caught in an elaborate sting. Jurors saw one video of White accepting $5,000 in cash, evidence that a juror said mesmerized the panel and proved damning to the defense.

White did not testify at trial and has remained largely silent about his case. But at his sentencing, he apologized.

White touched on the complex legacy of his father, Gerald White, whom his lawyers said would have been charged with his son but for his death in 2011. The elder White is heard on secret recordings participating in the bribery scheme, prosecutors said.

Kevin White suggested his father, who had served time in prison as a younger man, may have led him astray.

White, who was born out of wedlock and was essentially disowned by the father's side of his family, said "my life started to go downhill" after he tried to forge a connection with his father.

"I always wanted a relationship with my father," he said. "But I see where that's gotten me."

But he conceded, "This isn't about him today. It's about me."

Family members asked that White not be sent to prison because of his many good deeds. White's two children, who are both in college, and his wife, Jennie White, spoke briefly.

Sheryl O'Neal, White's mother, said her son wasn't the bad person portrayed by the media.

"I am the proud mother of Kevin White," she said. "He's not a criminal. He hasn't killed anybody. He's not a drug addict. He's not an alcoholic. He's Kevin White."

Grady Irvin Jr., White's attorney, asked the judge to impose a sentence below the advisory sentencing guidelines, which in this case were 41 to 51 months.

"He understands he has to be held accountable for his actions," Irvin said. "His life has been a public life. The bad is out there ... This isn't the media's fault. He's here because it's his fault."

The statutory maximum in White's case was 20 years, though U.S. Attorney Robert O'Neill asked only for a guideline sentence.

"Mr. White violated the public trust," O'Neill said. "He utilized his office for private gain."

In sentencing White, Whittemore complimented him on his two "beautiful children" and reassured White that his family will always love him.

"One thing we learn in this business is that children are resilient," the judge said. Referring to White's rocky relationship with his father, Whittemore added, "You probably know that better than anyone."

Staff writer Jodie Tillman contributed to this report. William R. Levesque can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3432.

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