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White turns on alibi uncle

TAMPA — Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin White has already alienated an important political benefactor while defending a sexual discrimination lawsuit brought by a former aide.

Now he is turning on his uncle, who initially had given him an alibi in the case.

White claims the alibi was recanted because his uncle stands to make millions of dollars on a real estate deal by changing his tune.

The prospective land sale, part of a languishing plan to redevelop blighted neighborhoods north of downtown Tampa, has been a recurring topic in the case's pretrial testimony. But the former aide says it was actually White trying to get in on the deal during a fateful trip to Atlanta that is at the center of her lawsuit.

"Absolutely not," White said Friday.

Alyssa Ogden claims that White fired her in 2007 for refusing his repeated sexual advances during the seven months she worked for him. She alleges the overtures began days into the job, when White lured her to Atlanta on a supposed business trip then asked to share her hotel bed.

White, 44, a Democrat, denies that and the rest of Ogden's allegations.

He has testified that Ogden, then 22, asked to go on the trip. And he says businessman C. Blythe Andrews Jr., then 77 and chairman of the Florida Sentinel Bulletin newspaper, offered to pay her airfare — a charge Andrews denies.

Andrews has been a strong political backer of White's, who served on the Tampa City Council before winning a County Commission seat in 2004. White has spent thousands in campaign dollars advertising in the Sentinel Bulletin, which caters to African-Americans.

White had introduced the two a week before Ogden started working for him. He was dropping off an employment package at Ogden's former workplace while Andrews was in the car.

Ogden and White subsequently attended a group luncheon, and White has said he thought they formed a romantic attraction.

"I believe Mr. Andrews believed that Miss Ogden was interested in him," White has testified.

Andrews has strenuously denied that in his own deposition.

"It's just ridiculous," Andrews has testified. "I have no interest in that girl.

"I was thrown under the bus by somebody I tried to help."

In Atlanta, White and Ogden met up with Andrews and White's uncle, Andre Moses White, a principal of the Sentinel Bulletin newspaper in Georgia, for lunch. Andre White was joined by a female companion.

During lunch, she said, the men discussed a possible real estate transaction.

Andrews is part of a group that owns the Tampa Park Apartment complex north of downtown. Back in 2005, it was part of massive public-private redevelopment proposal that included the Central Park Village public housing complex in White's Commission district.

A private group led by Tampa businessman Don Wallace was seeking to buy Tampa Park as part of the project, but a contract fell through. Andrews' group was still looking to sell the property.

Ogden said she and her boss had talked about the property.

"I knew he wanted Mr. Andrews to sell it in hopes to get a piece of the change. That's what he said. Mr. White told me that he hopes he sells it because hopefully he'll get some of it," Ogden said without elaborating.

White denied that Friday.

"I had nothing to do with that," he said.

White, however, drew attention to testimony from his uncle when reached Friday. In it, Andre White confirms he had been talking with a possible partner from Atlanta interested in buying the Tampa Park property and developing it.

He said he had been offered "several million dollars" if it went through.

"That's what they said," Andre White says of the prospective partner.

Lunch was followed by shopping, then dinner at a steakhouse.

The uncle initially gave a sworn statement in response to Ogden's lawsuit. In it, he claimed his nephew was at his house in Stone Mountain, Ga., at the time Ogden claims Kevin White showed up at her hotel room asking to sleep in her bed.

But while testifying in March, Andre White recanted that story. He said he hadn't understood the written statement that had been prepared by lawyers and that his nephew wasn't at his house.

"A huge, multimillion-dollar real estate commission is a very good reason for you to change your testimony," Kevin White said Friday.

Attempts to reach Andre White and his attorney were unsuccessful. In his deposition, he said the prospects of reviving the deal now are dim.

Ogden's attorney, Ronald Fraley, declined comment.

Barry Cohen, an attorney for Andrews, dismissed White's interpretation of his uncle's about-face. He said Andre White simply recognized he could get in trouble for making a false statement in a federal court case.

"The reason he's recanting his story is he did a favor for Kevin," Cohen said. "And realized he shouldn't have and realized there could be some serious consequences to that favor."

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Bill Varian can be reached at varian@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3387.

White turns on alibi uncle 05/09/09 [Last modified: Sunday, May 10, 2009 12:01am]
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