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Hillsborough County commissioner's security business a possible conflict of interest

TAMPA — As a Hillsborough County commissioner, Kevin White serves on the government agency that regulates limousine services.

This summer, he started a security business that advertises, among other offerings, limousine services for VIPs.

His new business, Icon Security Solutions Inc., has the same landlord as the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission, where White is the chairman. His storefront is sandwiched between two wings of the agency's office.

White initially denied he is providing limo services or plans to, although his company Web site touts "Superbowl Limos & Protection." The company is featured on the Tampa Bay Super Bowl Host Committee's list of emerging businesses available as local subcontractors.

White said the company would provide security for people in private limousines, and any other service for this year's game that is legal.

White was then asked about another page on the Icon Web site describing its VIP service. It reads: "Our associations give us a wide array of vehicles to provide you with. Choose from 12 passenger Limousines, to luxury sedans, to sports cars." It also says the vehicles can be accompanied by drivers and "tailing escorts."

White told the St. Petersburg Times that the cars provided will not be classic limousines, and said the Web site may need some clarifying.

"That's the problem when you start a start up business,'' he said. "You find there are some things that need to be modified. Thank you for bringing that to my attention."

The PTC regulates all cars for hire that come with a driver, whether they are limousines or not. To do what his Web site pitches, White would have to have business ties with companies he regulates.

Icon is not a certified limousine service with the agency. Any limousine service seeking to do business during the two-week runup to the Super Bowl will have to do so by affiliating with a locally certified company.

White also said he sees no conflict with renting space from the same person who leases space to a government agency he helps oversee.

"It was just a building with space for lease within close proximity of my county office downtown," White said. "Location, location, location."

White has been dogged by questions about his conduct while holding or seeking elected office. He has paid fines for purchasing designer suits with campaign money, faces a sexual discrimination lawsuit from a former County Commission aide, and federal investigators have been asking questions about his dealings with a convicted mortgage swindler.

State records show that White formed Icon Security Solutions in April, initially listing his home as the corporate address. The address shifted to the Kennedy Boulevard location neighboring the PTC in July.

He has since gotten the business certified as a qualified minority vendor with the state and Hillsborough School District.

County Attorney Renee Lee said White asked her whether there would be an ethical problem with him seeking certification by county government as a minority business. She said she could not remember when, and said White did not tell her what kind of business he had formed.

Lee said there would not be a problem with him getting certified with the county. Although she said she told him that whether he could do business with the county was a different question.

"I don't think there is a problem. Other agencies accept the certification," Lee said, saying White could use the certification to get work as a minority contractor elsewhere.

White has not applied for county minority certification, said Economic Development Director Gene Gray, whose office oversees the program.

The county is getting ready to seek bids for a new security guard company. White said he would "absolutely not" seek the work. "That would be a definite conflict of interest," he said.

Icon's Web site touts White's former experience in law enforcement. An Internet advertisement for the company said its staff has 87 years of combined security experience.

White declined to identify his business associates, saying that would like asking Tampa police to disclose their undercover detectives. Advertisements for the company say it offers anything from polygraph testing and travel escorts to armored car service and bomb disposal.

White has previously worked as a Rooms To Go corporate security director. He said he was "not at liberty to say" whether he still works for the furniture chain.

"Put in a good plug for us," he said of his new business.

Times staff writers Jeff Testerman and Janet Zink contributed to this report. Bill Varian can be reached at varian@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3387.

Kevin White has had a stormy career in public life since moving from police work to become a two-time elected official.

• In 1994, White's police career ended when he resigned after officials determined he had violated pursuit policy in a chase that left a civilian injured. The accident victim sued the city and was paid $85,000. Two months before his resignation, police brass determined that White had abused his authority by threatening to put a man in jail if he did not pay White $500 after the two had been in another car crash.

• In 2002 and 2003, while White was running for the Tampa City Council, Matthew B. Cox, who was later convicted mortgage fraud, gave White thousands in illegal contributions solicited from Cox's friends and colleagues. Cox, now serving a 26-year sentence in federal prison and cooperating with a government investigation, told the FBI last year that he also gave White a $7,000 cash payoff in return for White's promised votes on rezonings once he was elected to the city council. White denies taking payoffs for rezonings.

• In 2007, the Florida Elections Commission found probable cause that White committed 14 violations of state elections law in his run for the Hillsborough County Commission. Most violations stemmed from White's improper use of $6,100 in campaign money to buy tailored Italian suits, and from his filing of false campaign reports that disguised the identity of his clothier. Facing $38,047 in fines, White settled with the elections commission for $9,500.

• This year, White's former county commission aide filed a harassment lawsuit, claiming she was fired for refusing his "constant sexual advances and propositions." The federal suit is pending.

>>fast facts

Public life stormy after police career ends

Kevin White has had a stormy career in public life since moving from police work to become a two-time elected official.

• In 1994, White's police career ended when he resigned after officials determined he had violated pursuit policy in a chase that left a civilian injured. The accident victim sued the city and was paid $85,000.

• In 2002 and 2003, while White was running for the Tampa City Council, Matthew B. Cox, who was later convicted of mortgage fraud, gave White thousands in illegal contributions solicited from Cox's friends and colleagues. Cox, now serving a 26-year sentence in federal prison and cooperating with a government investigation, told the FBI last year that he also gave White a $7,000 cash payoff in return for White's promised votes on rezonings once he was elected to the city council. White denies taking payoffs for rezonings.

• In 2007, the Florida Elections Commission found probable cause that White committed 14 violations of state elections law in his run for the Hillsborough County Commission. Most violations stemmed from White's improper use of $6,100 in campaign money to buy tailored Italian suits, and from his filing of false campaign reports that disguised the identity of his clothier. Facing $38,047 in fines, White settled with the elections commission for $9,500.

• This year, White's former county commission aide filed a harassment lawsuit, claiming she was fired for refusing his "constant sexual advances and propositions." The federal suit is pending.

Hillsborough County commissioner's security business a possible conflict of interest 08/21/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 27, 2008 1:22pm]

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