Kevin White's conviction Wednesday on public corruption charges brings a fitting end to a shameful political career. White was found guilty of bribery, wire fraud, conspiracy and lying to the FBI after a two-week federal trial that exposed the worst that the public had come to dread from the former Tampa City Council member and Hillsborough County commissioner.
The jury needed only six hours spread over two days to weed through the hours of secret recordings. It found White guilty of scheming to cash in on his post as chairman of the county's taxicab licensing agency. A grand jury had charged White and his father, Gerald, of conspiring to accept $8,000 in bribes and a Lincoln Navigator in exchange for helping prospective wrecker companies secure certificates from the Public Transportation Commission, which the younger White chaired. Those certificates would have qualified the companies to be placed on the lucrative rotation lists that police agencies use when they call for a car to be towed.
U.S. Attorney Robert O'Neill credited the secret recordings of White and a video that showed him counting $100 bills as key to the conviction. But anyone with passing knowledge of White's years in office had to know that the prosecution's ace card was the defendant himself. Long before White was shaking down tow truck operators, he was maneuvering to increase his pay, spending campaign money on Italian suits and firing a female aide for resisting his sexual advances. That's why it was no surprise this time around that White's defense was to blame his father, who died shortly before his son's arrest in June.
O'Neill deserves credit not only for pursuing White, but for personally handling the case. That sends a message about the priority the U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Florida places on public corruption. Voters also deserve credit for turning White out of office even before his arrest. His disgraceful conduct and the little he had to show for his east Tampa constituency were reason enough to replace him in the 2010 election even before the corruption indictment.
It's only a shame that federal and local taxpayers have had to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to clean up the damage White caused to the democratic system. His sentence, scheduled for Feb. 27, should recognize the scale and audacity of White's abuse of power, his utter unwillingness to accept responsibility and his starring role in creating an image problem that plagues the county to this day.