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Hillsborough commissioner used campaign funds to pay relatives

Hillsborough Commissioner White is up for re-election next year.

Hillsborough Commissioner White is up for re-election next year.

TAMPA — As Kevin White seeks another term on the Hillsborough County Commission, he is using political contributions to pay a relative with a criminal record $1,000 a month for campaign work.

White is also paying $700 a month in rent to his own security firm, Icon Security Solutions, for campaign space.

So far, White has raised $83,000 for his campaign. Nearly $11,000 has gone to his nephew, Anthony Torres, and for rent for campaign space in his security company's office.

According to White's testimony in a recent sexual discrimination lawsuit, the security company had worked on just one job since it was created in April 2008. The Icon corporation was dissolved last month for failure to file an annual report, state records show.

Torres wouldn't discuss his work for White or his past legal problems, and there was little evidence of any campaign presence at Icon Security on Kennedy Boulevard when St. Petersburg Times reporters visited the office last month.

Torres sat at a desk.

Asked if White was running his campaign from the space, Torres said, "We're thinking about it."

When asked if there were any campaign materials in the office, he said, "No."

Two hours later, White met a reporter at the office.

"See? Campaign, campaign," he said, pointing to a box of stationery and a newly placed banner draped over some desks.

But White declined to point out the multiple posters and banners he said also were there.

"What do you want? It's a year out," he said. "It's a campaign office."

So why didn't Torres produce the materials on the first visit?

"It's not his obligation to deal with the media," White said.

This week, White said Torres works for his campaign out of the space, answering phones and handling correspondence.

He declined to say whether Torres also works for Icon.

"I don't have to answer that," he said. "That's my private business."

Torres, 32, is White's nephew. White, a licensed notary public, presided over Torres' wedding ceremony in mid April, several weeks after Torres began earning $250 a week from White's campaign.

As a young man, Torres had drug problems and did prison time.

In October 1995, he and two youths were charged with burglary, grand theft and auto theft after breaking into a home.

A month later, Torres was charged with being an accessory after the fact to attempted murder for an incident in which shots were fired into a vehicle carrying several teenagers, according to court records.

Prosecutors said Torres took the gunman to and from the shooting site. The charge was reduced to being an accessory after the fact to shooting into an occupied dwelling, and Torres was sentenced to two years of community control and three years on probation.

After a probation officer reported that Torres skipped a urine screen, left his home without notifying authorities and failed to complete community service hours, a judge sentenced him to 30 months in prison.

That sentence was modified in 1997 and Torres was released, but after being charged with violating probation for possessing marijuana and cocaine, Torres was sentenced to county jail.

In 2001, a judge ended Torres' probation early, based on a report that he was drug free and had made full restitution.

Reports show White also used campaign money to pay more than $300 each to his two children, Carissa and Kevin Jr., for working on his re-election bid.

Ron Meyer, an election law attorney in Tallahassee, says it's not illegal to use campaign money to pay relatives if they are actually doing campaign work.

And if White is using his business offices as campaign space, he has to pay for it if the value is beyond the $500 legal limit on cash or in-kind contributions to candidates.

"It's not unusual, and in fact it's probably legally required for a candidate using a business office to pay the fair market value of the space being used," Meyer said.

But candidates can't pay the entire office rent with campaign money if the whole space isn't being used for the campaign. The amount paid should reflect a "reasonable apportionment of the space," Meyer said.

White has a history of problems involving campaign money.

Two years ago, he settled a Florida Elections Commission complaint by paying $9,500 after a finding that he committed 14 election-law violations. The complaint involved White's use of $6,100 in campaign funds to buy tailored suits and other clothing. It also accused him of using false entries on a campaign report, including a phony address, to show the money went to a consultant. The campaign expenditures actually went to White's clothier.

Last year, the Times reported that White also took campaign contributions from now-imprisoned mortgage swindler Matthew Cox.

Cox enlisted associates and family members to write campaign checks to White, then reimbursed them for the contributions — a practice prohibited by Florida election law.

Cox also told the FBI and said in letters to the Times that he paid a $7,000 cash bribe to White before the 2006 Tampa City Council runoff in return for future rezoning votes.

White said he never knew that Cox orchestrated illegal contributions to his City Council campaign, and he denied taking any cash payments from Cox.

Jeff Testerman can be reached at testerman@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3422.

Hillsborough commissioner used campaign funds to pay relatives 10/14/09 [Last modified: Thursday, October 15, 2009 9:37am]
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