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Column | Sue Carlton

It turns out you were never Kevin White's priority

They are two words buried deep inside Wednesday's federal indictment of former Hills­borough County Commissioner Kevin White.

They are wrapped in the story of sleazy bribes over steak dinners and allegations of a politician who could not have been more available had he taped a for-sale sign to the lapels of his expensive Italian suit.

"Honest services," it says in the indictment, because that's what Kevin White is really accused of stealing from you.

The 10 bribery-related charges against our former elected official surprised few of us who have followed his career as a politician who became known for trying to grab what he should not.

Early on there were the sleek suits he bought with campaign money and tried to hide on the required forms, a scandal that was almost laughable.

Later, there was the young aide who said he relentlessly sexually harassed her and then fired her, and then the federal jury that agreed, and nothing was remotely laughable about that.

In the end, what had White facing a federal judge with shackles around his ankles was no grand scheme, no cunningly masterminded theft. It was just charges of cheap, street-level bribes for a politician prosecutors say was willing to prostitute any "honest services" he owed us.

White, they say, was willing to take a few thousand bucks over pricey meals paid for by anyone but himself in exchange for his influence as chairman of the shady Public Transportation Commission. For this, White would deliver permits that could mean lucrative business for tow truck companies.

Translation: Taxpayers paid him to look out for their interests and he looked out for himself, lining his pockets with the help of his political power.

No doubt White will contest the charges. No doubt the audio and video recordings carefully collected by the FBI using a confidential informant and an undercover agent called "Darryl" will tell the story.

Maybe we will get to hear White's father talking to the informant about getting some "dinner money" for his son.

Maybe we will hear White himself assuring a tow truck company owner who was also indicted that his application should "fly through."

And maybe we will not be surprised.

Our new U.S. Attorney Robert O'Neill said the right things when asked if this is a new era in prosecuting public corruption. (Notably, we have not had a local arrest of this significance since back when Steve LaBrake got caught abusing his position as Tampa's housing chief — and not because anyone thinks all public officials have been on their best behavior since.)

O'Neill said public corruption should always be a priority, and that he plans to be as vigilant as ever.

Maybe even more so, it would appear.

Gives you some faith that other questions raised about other elected officials will get a similarly thorough scouring.

There is nothing to be happy about in White's arrest, or in the sad tale of corruption within. But maybe it's a start toward setting things right.

Because what really got sold here was not a couple of tow truck permits. It was the trust of a public entitled to the "honest services" of the people we elect and weary of a world where the arrest of one of them is no real surprise.

It turns out you were never Kevin White's priority 06/15/11 [Last modified: Thursday, June 16, 2011 8:04am]
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