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As county legal bills go unpaid, former Commissioner Kevin White buys house

TAMPA — Kevin White has claimed he doesn't have the money to help pay for a 2009 sexual harassment verdict while he was a Hillsborough County commissioner.

"You can't get blood from a turnip," he told commissioners last year as they pressed him to contribute.

Yet White found a way to buy a new home in Riverview two months after losing his $90,000-a-year County Commission job in November.

White and his wife purchased the foreclosed home even as they stared at foreclosure on one of their existing houses. Public records show the purchase price was $143,300.

The only mortgage recorded in connection with the purchase is $91,100, records show. That means White came up with the rest — $52,200. No other loans are listed against the property.

"The most likely scenario is that he put down $52,000 on this house," said Michael Wasylik, a Pasco County real estate lawyer not involved with the purchase.

It is possible someone else lent White the balance, and the agreement hasn't been recorded in official records yet. But since the home was purchased in December, that is unlikely, Wasylik said.

White did not return calls seeking comments.

His wife, Jennie, is a nurse and together they own a private security firm. They were already deep in debt, according to public records.

A real estate listing describing their new digs suggests the Whites are enjoying a marked upgrade from their 70-year-old former home in Seminole Heights, which they still own.

The 2,200-square-foot, four-bedroom, three-bath home in the South Fork subdivision features a three-car garage, backyard fish pond and a master suite with a bathroom that includes double sinks and a garden tub, all overlooking a neighborhood pond. It last sold in December 2006 for $274,500.

White and his wife transferred their homestead exemption to the house from their Seminole Heights residence in February.

Hillsborough County commissioners, and the attorney they've hired to seek money from White for the sexual harassment case, said they were not aware of the purchase.

"I think the county would be surprised, one, to find Mr. White has those kind of resources," said Richard Harrison, a lawyer with the Allen Dell law firm in Tampa who volunteered to seek repayment from White in connection to his sexual harassment lawsuit. "And they would be concerned, two, that he hasn't offered to apply those resources to repay the expenses incurred by the people of Hillsborough County as the result of his misconduct."

Commissioner Mark Sharpe expressed both surprise and concern.

"The first priority ought to be the taxpayers, whether you're in office or out of office," he said.

White lost his bid for re-election in November, finishing last in the three-person Democratic primary won by former state Sen. Les Miller. The defeat came a year after a federal jury found that White sexually discriminated against a former aide by firing her for refusing his repeated advances.

The county was found jointly liable by the jury. Attorneys hired by the county amassed more than $200,000 in bills. The jury awarded the aide, Alyssa Ogden, $75,000, and the county was forced to pay her attorney more than $200,000.

The county's insurance covered some of the costs but had a $350,000 deductible. White and the insurer are locked in litigation, with the former commissioner saying the policy should have covered his legal bills, which totaled about $157,000.

"I don't have any knowledge about either the home or Mr. White's personal finances," said Michael Laurato, the attorney White hired to represent him in the billing tussle. "As far as I'm concerned, he doesn't owe anyone any money anyway. He's owed money."

The county has joined the lawsuit between its insurer and White, contending he should cover some portion of the deductible. White's original trial attorney, Steven Wenzel, also has joined the suit. He wants any reimbursement White receives for legal expenses to go directly to his law firm.

Wenzel said he was unaware of the Whites' home purchase but declined further comment. Gale Porter, an attorney he has hired, said White still owes his trial attorneys $140,000.

That's not White's only financial trouble. Financial disclosure reports he filed while in office showed that the debt on the Seminole Heights house exceeded its county-appraised value.

Records show that in February, lenders served a foreclosure notice on a Tampa Heights investment home the Whites own through a company, CJW Ventures.

"It's obviously concerning to me," County Commission Chairman Al Higginbotham said of White's latest home purchase. "I will bring it to the attention of the county attorney to see what the county can do to protect its outstanding bills."

Bill Varian can be reached at (813) 226-3387 or varian@sptimes.com. John Martin can be reached (813) 226-3372 or jmartin@sptimes.com.

As county legal bills go unpaid, former Commissioner Kevin White buys house 03/30/11 [Last modified: Thursday, March 31, 2011 12:38am]

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