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The rotten apple didn't fall far from the tree

Think of this as the Father's Day story out of Boss Tweed meets Spiro Agnew. • While other dads educate their offspring on how to throw a baseball, or fish, or belch the alphabet, do you suppose one day little Kevin White approached his paterfamilias and said something like: "Pop-Pop? Do you think you could teach me how to be a sleazy, walking oil slick of a corrupt politician?"

To which the elder Gerald White, wiping a tear from his eye, generously replied: "Of course my little grasshopper. Climb up in daddy's lap and let's begin. We'll start slow with the basics by learning how to use campaign funds to fill out your wardrobe. But I have high hopes you'll go far in the moral turpitude racket."

Kevin White proved to be a quick study, which is the sort of thing that happens when one is dedicated to being the very best in becoming the very worst.

Somewhere in that vast greased palm in the sky Gerald White must be a beaming proud father at all his son has accomplished, capping off a long and tawdry public service career with a 10-count federal felony indictment that includes bribery (totaling at least $8,000), conspiracy, wire fraud, mail fraud and, in a lovely touch, lying to an FBI agent.

At last, the former Hillsborough County commissioner hit the scruples-challenged big time.

Chances are when anyone remotely familiar with Hillsborough County politics learned of White's indictment stemming from allegations that the then-chairman of the Public Transportation Commission was shaking down applicants for government towing contracts, not a single iota, not a scintilla, not even a smidgen of surprise was registered.

After all, few public figures ever wore their utter lack of ethical standards as vaingloriously as White. From early hinky campaign contributions, to sexual harassment accusations filed by a former aide, to starting a business regulated by the same PTC he chaired, to a dubious mortgage held by another vendor also overseen by the PTC, White was an energetic man in full hubris, the Lance Armstrong of baksheesh.

But vultures eventually need to soar. The federal charges describe how White was at Ruth's Chris Steak House to request a gratuity from tow truck company owner George Hondrellis, who was seeking a permit from the PTC to do business with area law enforcement agencies.

In a touching gesture, the charges say, White's daddio was kind enough to offer his services as a bagman. Father and son, working together. Now there's a Norman Rockwell moment for you.

The problem here, of course, is that while when it came to being more compromised than a lineup of Chicago aldermen, Kevin White would never be confused with Bertrand Russell.

A dolt with larcenous intentions is never a good combination.

Things were going swimmingly as White, along with his papa, were alledgedly content to simply extort money from Hondrellis. But then the Ruth's Chris dinner table got bigger and bigger as a federal informant soon joined the party as well as an FBI undercover agent. While it was nice of these added guests to pick up the Whites' supper tabs, everything said was being captured on video and audio tapes, which probably qualifies as a just desert.

Surely White had to know that everyone already suspected he was dirtier than a Pakistani Tora Bora border guard. So one has to wonder why would the then-commissioner and PTC chairman be so reckless in so openly engaging in soliciting bribes, according to the federal indictment, when two strangers suddenly showed up for dinner?

Good grief, White, ever the thoughtful son, is accused of even demanding that his dinner companions cough up a Ford Navigator for the old man. It never dawned on Kevin White that maybe, just maybe, his new steak-loving friends might be more wired up than RoboCop?

Gerald White passed on to that Miranda rule in the sky a few weeks ago, leaving his son to carry on the family name in shackles. Kevin White already was a police officer as well as an ineffectual Tampa City Council member and county commissioner. Now a jury will hear charges that he wasn't very good at not being very good — a twisted legacy only a father could love.

The rotten apple didn't fall far from the tree 06/16/11 [Last modified: Thursday, June 16, 2011 6:09pm]
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