Somewhere near the rearview mirror, a hidden camera rolls as the man in the white Umbro golf shirt and shades counts $100 bills just out of view.
Fifty of them.
In the passenger seat sits then-Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin White, taking time out from a fierce re-election campaign to review his companion’s tow-truck license application. The man hands $5,000 to White — for bigger campaign signs, he says.
“I want to take care of you for taking care of me,” says the man White knows as Darryl Wilson.
“No question, I’m going to be there to help you,” White replies, as he appears to stuff the wad into his pants pocket.
The nearly two-year public corruption probe of White was distilled to its essence at the federal courthouse in downtown Tampa on Wednesday: Two men in a car exchanging favors, a scene replayed for jurors.
It was the much-anticipated cornerstone of prosecutors’ charges that White conspired to accept bribes while in office. It wasn’t the White portrayed by his attorneys a day earlier — the unwitting dupe of a manipulative father they claim initiated and was the main beneficiary of the kickback scheme.
Wilson, it turns out, wasn’t the import-export entrepreneur looking to get into the tow-truck business in Tampa as White believed. Instead, he was undercover FBI Agent Darryl Williams, recruited from Georgia and introduced to White by a confidential informer.
Their meeting, in a parking lot outside a LongHorn Steakhouse where they had both just had lunch, was also captured in photographs from another Tampa-based FBI agent. That agent, Deven Williams, introduced photos of the two leaving the restaurant, White in jeans and a lemon yellow button-down shirt.
Deven Williams testified that he provided his fellow agent the cash, recording the serial numbers of the bills. That money, he said, never turned up in White’s campaign account. Florida law prohibits individuals from donating more than $500 to state and local candidates during each election cycle.
Agents questioned White at his Riverview home about the $5,000 payment, Deven Williams said. White denied four times that he took any money.
The June 4, 2010, lunch was preceded by a series of conversations recorded by agents and played for jurors Wednesday. The undercover agent is heard pressing White for his help securing a tow-truck operator license and a spot on a lucrative rotational list that police use to summon wreckers.
Increasingly, White is heard referencing his campaign and the need to raise cash because he had a campaign opponent — former state legislator Les Miller.
During a May 28, 2010, call, the agent asks White how much he needs to raise. White says he needs to “beat the streets” for ten, meaning $10,000.
So the agent offers to match that amount, half before his tow-truck application is submitted and half after it’s approved and he secures a spot on the police rotation list.
“I’m going to do whatever I can do to walk (it) through,” White says of the application.
Jurors also heard of another alleged payment from the agent to White weeks earlier.
The $1,000 payment came in a car right after an April 29, 2010, dinner at Ruth’s Chris Steak House between White and the agent, who again was seeking White’s help in his capacity as chairman of the Public Transportation Commission. The PTC regulates tow trucks, limousines, cabs and other cars for hire and White was one of Hillsborough County’s appointed representatives to the board.
Again, White told the agent he could help his application for the license sail through the PTC.
“It comes before us, it gets approved,” White said. “I make sure it’s approved. That ain’t a problem.”
White is accused with his father, the late Gerald White, of accepting $8,000 in bribes and a used Lincoln Navigator, in exchange for helping three men vying to start new tow truck businesses. His father died before White was charged in June with 10 counts that include bribery, conspiracy and mail fraud.
Prosecutors say tow-truck drivers George Hondrellis, also charged with White, and Peter Rockefeller, working with the FBI as an informer, first approached the elder White in 2009 seeking his assistance. Rockefeller subsequently introduced the undercover agent to both Whites.
White’s defense was only beginning to cross-examine Deven Williams, the agent who was introducing dozens of audio recordings, at the end of the day Wednesday.
Lead defense attorney Grady Irvin Jr. said in opening statements Tuesday that Gerald White, absent in his illegitimate son’s life until he became a commissioner, was the instigator in soliciting payoffs. He also said White neither did, nor was in a position to do, anything to help his suitors.
White on tape
Authorities taped a May 28, 2010, conversation between then-Hillsborough Commissioner Kevin White and FBI Agent Darryl Williams, who was posing as a businessman named Darryl Wilson:
KEVIN WHITE: I’m in heavy campaign mode, scraping up funds. . . . In [the] next two weeks, got to beat the streets for 10 [thousand dollars].
DARRYL WILSON: It’s a two-way street.
WHITE: Drop off [your company’s] application . . . make sure my people get it.
WILSON: Half up front, half after we finish. I’ll bring half when I come. . . . Do we need to take sheriff out to dinner?
WHITE: Let’s see how it goes.
St. Petersburg Times