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Pension fund wants payout to convicted ex-Hillsborough Commissioner Kevin White returned

TAMPA — Another governmental agency is trying to get money back from former Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin White.

The State Board of Administration sued White earlier this month seeking $68,436 he withdrew from a retirement account after leaving office in 2010.

Under Florida law, public employees convicted of certain crimes, including bribery, are subject to forfeiting their retirement benefits. White, 47, a Democrat, was convicted of seven federal charges in November 2011, including accepting bribes from tow truck drivers seeking favors while he was on the County Commission.

"Plaintiff has therefore forfeited his right to his Investment Plan funds due to his felony conviction of the crimes … committed within the course and scope of his employment with the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners," the lawsuit reads.

In other words, the SBA, which oversees the state's investments, including the retirement accounts of public employees, says White must return the early payout.

White is still waiting to learn when he must report to prison to begin serving a three-year sentence for his conviction on bribery and other counts.

The SBA lawsuit does not specify when White received the payout. A spokesman for the agency said Tuesday that he is not permitted to divulge that information. Under state law, employees who leave government service who are enrolled in the retirement plan that White was may seek a payout no sooner than three months after their departure, not including the month of that departure.

That means White would not have been eligible for the payout until March 2011, the same month two FBI agents visited his home to interview him in connection with their investigation. White was indicted in June 2011 on 10 counts, including lying to those agents, and a jury found him guilty of seven charges.

It's not the first time a government has sought money from White. His County Commission colleagues voted to sue him to recoup some of the more than $425,000 in legal expenses the county amassed while defending White in a 2009 sexual discrimination lawsuit.

A jury in that case found that White discriminated against a former aide by firing her for refusing his repeated sexual advances. The jury awarded the woman, Alyssa Ogden, $75,000 in damages. A federal judge later ruled Hillsborough County could not recoup legal expenses from White since jurors found the county partly liable.

In the current suit, the SBA says his bribery conviction makes him ineligible for retirement benefits.

The state has essentially two retirement benefit plans for its employees, which include county workers: One, a traditional pension program, paid for mostly by the county, guarantees them monthly payments for life in retirement.

Many elected officials initially avoid that plan, especially now that it takes eight years to become eligible for benefits.

The alternative is the Florida Retirement System Investment Plan, which currently functions similarly to a 401k offered by many private employers. Vesting takes only a year, and employees can opt for a lump sum payout at retirement.

The lawsuit said the state is not seeking to cover any employee contribution to the plan and the state spokesman said the investment program did not allow for employee contributions while White was with the county. It does seek accrued interest, collection costs and reasonable attorney's fees.

White served four years on the County Commission, getting drubbed by Les Miller in his 2010 re-election bid.

Neither White nor an attorney for the SBA could be reached Tuesday for comment.

Bill Varian can be reached at varian@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3387.

Pension fund wants payout to convicted ex-Hillsborough Commissioner Kevin White returned 05/15/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 16, 2012 12:52am]

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