Opening Statements in Kevin White Trial Today

It’s a jury of Kevin White’s peers, not his neighbors.

The first corruption trial of an elected Hillsborough County official in more than a decade opened Monday with the selection of a federal jury containing just one juror from Hillsborough — a woman from Tampa.

That is undoubtedly a desired defense formula for White, a former Hillsborough County commissioner and Tampa City Council member whose name has often been in the local news recently for one controversy or another.

The jury has five men and seven women, including one African-American. The court also sat three alternates for a trial that may last up to two weeks.

Few of those seated had heard much of White, and the one Tampa resident who made the jury said she had heard “nothing at all” about White’s travails.

The case is being tried in U.S. District Court, which draws jurors from throughout the Tampa Bay area and Central and southwest Florida. Other jurors seated Monday come from Pasco, Polk, Pinellas and Sarasota counties.

They include a hairstylist, a retired construction contractor, a nurse at Tampa’s veterans hospital, a restaurant manager and a billing coder for a surgery center. Also on the jury are an assistant dean and a financial aid director at Florida Southern College in Lakeland.

As the judge and attorneys asked potential jurors their questions, White looked on, sometimes drumming the fingers of his right hand on the table. His mother sat behind him.

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White, 46, is accused of accepting bribes for his influence on the Public Transportation Commission, the Hillsborough agency he chaired that regulates vehicles for hire, including wreckers. He and his late father, Gerald White Sr., accepted $8,000 in bribes and a 2003 Lincoln Navigator, prosecutors say.

George Hondrellis, owner of Tampa City Towing, a police informer and an undercover FBI agent told the Whites they wanted his help getting a PTC license, prosecutors said. The three wanted to win a spot on a potentially lucrative rotational towing list used by law enforcement.

Hondrellis, whose own attorneys say is “delusional,” will be tried separately if he is declared competent for trial after undergoing a mental health evaluation.

The heart of U.S. Attorney Robert O’Neill’s case is expected to be hours of secret audio and videos that prosecutors indicate will take jurors inside the conspiracy.

Few details about the contents of those tapes have been released. White’s attorney, Grady Irvin Jr., warned jurors that much of the language on those tapes contains expletives.

“There is strong language,” he said. “I kind of call it ‘boy talk.’ ”

Attorneys in the case also provided the first public glimpse of their defense witness lists, which include well-known names.

Former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco, a longtime friend of some of White’s family; Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill; former County Commissioner Brian Blair, who served on the PTC with White; and PTC Executive Director Cesar Padilla are listed. Court records do not indicate what information they may be asked to provide.

Other witnesses are White’s former commission aide and representatives of companies the PTC regulates. One, Michael Moses, part owner of cab and van businesses, lent White money to buy his current home a month after he left the commission last November.

The witnesses also include White’s aunt, Bernadine White-King, who ran against her nephew when he first sought election to the Tampa City Council.

Opening statements and testimony in the case begin today.

St. Petersburg Times