The charges — shaking down tow truck drivers for bribes over free steak house dinners — paint an astounding capacity for sleaze even for Kevin White. First the former Hillsborough County commissioner got caught using campaign contributions to buy Italian suits. A federal jury found he sexually harassed his county aide, costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. His arrest Wednesday on bribery, conspiracy and fraud charges further stains his public service and, fairly or not, the reputation of county government.
Federal prosecutors indicted White on 10 charges, alleging he sought and received bribes in exchange for using his position to obtain the necessary permits for tow truck operators to work in the county. According to the indictment, a tow truck operator told a confidential informant in 2009 that he paid White's father, Gerald, $2,000 to obtain the necessary permits to join a towing rotation for the Tampa Police Department and the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. At the time, Kevin White chaired the Public Transportation Commission, the county agency that licenses cabs, tow trucks and other for-hire vehicles. There is nothing subtle about the approach.
According to the indictment, Gerald White solicited cash on his son's behalf — "dinner money." A confidential informant brought into the scheme provided Gerald White with a Lincoln Navigator. In a meeting with Kevin White, a federal undercover agent sought a permit, too, and allegedly paid the then-commissioner $1,000. Authorities say Kevin White told the agent his campaign needed $10,000; the agent allegedly paid White $5,000 while fending off requests for even more money.
Kevin White will have his day in court (the elder White died last month). But his indictment caps a political career swollen with arrogance and predatory behavior. County government is still trying to recover money from White for costs related to his harassment case. He left a residue of shame in east Tampa that makes it hard for White's successor, Les Miller, who beat him last year, to put the interests of the county's poorest district back on the public radar. Unfortunately, there is still a culture in Hillsborough where one black leader's failings disparage an entire race.
U.S. Attorney Robert E. O'Neill deserves credit for pursuing the case even after White was ousted from office by the voters. Elected officials must account for their acts. And there is the separate question of how White was allegedly able to maneuver the bureaucracy at the transportation commission. This agency is a dinosaur, the only one of its kind in Florida for a reason. Having elected officials dole out lucrative taxicab and other for-hire permits invites corruption; who can forget when two Tampa city officials took the opportunity in the 1990s to form their own ambulance company? The Legislature should disband the agency, whose duties can easily be managed by county government. There is a problem here that predates Kevin White.