Former Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin White
TAMPA, Florida -- "There's only one person I will talk to about all this and it's the only person I trust: Mike Deeson."
That's how the interview with former Hillsborough Commissioner Kevin White got started. It's the interview everyone wanted and only one person got.
White was chairman of the Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission and was convicted of bribery. He's to report to the prison soon, but he sat down with 10 News Investigators at his home in Riverview.
"It's sort of like death Mike, but you have the date," said White during the interview. He talked about how he felt getting ready to report to federal prison to serve his three year sentence.
"I just want to move on with my life, accept the responsibility, and know that everyone makes mistakes in life," he said. While White concedes he has made mistakes, he adamantly insists he did nothing wrong, although he was captured on tape taking money from an undercover FBI agent.
"It was clearly not a bribe. It was clearly to assist me with my campaign."
White didn't go into many details about the incident because the case is under appeal. He clings to the belief that if the jury had heard the tape recorded at the two and half hour lunch at the Longhorn Steakhouse before taking the money, the jury would have cleared him. However, the jury never really heard the tape because it was inaudible.
"The conversations that were had and what people are being shown as audio, with money changing hands, they would have known that it was definitely not a bribe or any type of compensation for a vote," said White.
He points to the undercover video that showed him leaving the restaurant as further proof that he didn't take a bribe.
"I was getting in my vehicle to leave and I was called back and summoned to walk back through another parking lot and get into the undercover FBI agent's car. I believe, clearly, if something had been said at lunch where I was expecting some sort of transaction to take place, I would have been going to wherever the transaction was going to be taking place, but I was leaving to go back home."
White adds that as a former Tampa Police officer, if he thought he was getting a bribe, it wouldn't be in a public place like a parking lot. "If I was trying to be sneaky, if I thought I was doing anything wrong, absolutely. I've been in the law enforcement game long enough to know and my antenna would have been raised and I would have said 'wow we're going to do this a different way."
Many, including the jury, were skeptical of his story, but White -- who has been making a living as a pastry chef selling to local restaurants -- says he doesn't care. "You know what, Mike, at this point I've gotten over what people say or what people think or what people care."
But White does seem to care that his former supporter and publisher of the Florida Sun Sentinel, the late Blythe Andrews, denied that Alyssa Ogden, White's former aide, was flown to Atlanta for a tryst with the aging publisher. He seems to care that his father, who was named as a co-defendant but died before the trial, appeared to be soliciting bribes for influence peddling and trading on White's office. He also seems to care that former Commissioner Rose Ferlita led the charge for the county to sue him. White contends it was to help her mayoral bid and that was just the bulldog tenacity in her.
White admits he made severe mistakes in dealing with his former aide, but he insists he never tried to have an affair with her and he says his wife, Jennie, knows that. "There are people and they speculate 'how can his wife can stay with him?' They don't know the relationship we have, they don't know what we've been through," he said.
White has been through a lot. He lost a sexual harassment suit and he's been convicted of bribery and faces three years in prison, but he says one of the scariest moments of his life happened when the prosecutors played a tape made more than a year earlier with the undercover FBI agent saying White needed to be at his dad's weekly poker game because he was going to hire several strippers who would blow his mind.
"Mike, I was scared to death because I didn't know what I said, and in that sterile environment of a courtroom anything can be taken out of context when guys are just chatting."
With his wife, mother, mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and church elders sitting behind him, White says he didn't start breathing again until he heard his own response on tape. "I said as far as the four or five girls being there, if I want my mind blown, I've been married 25 years and I have one of the most beautiful wives in the world and that part doesn't interest me."
White said he was never so relieved.
Another thing that doesn't interest White is going to jail, which he compared to dying. "You know, if we knew we were going to die on a certain day, we'd try to get everything in order and that's what I'm trying to do. But it's not the end. It's the end of one chapter."
If the past is any predictor of the future, when Kevin White comes out of prison at 50 years old, that next chapter will have twists and turns that even he says he can't imagine.
White will spend three years in prison and cost the county hundreds of thousands of dollars as a result of the sexual harassment suit. He could walk out of prison with a huge pile of money. He is suing the insurance company hired by the county that didn't pay his bills in the sexual harassment suit.
The same federal judge who sat on White's criminal trial has ruled the insurance company should have picked up the tab for his defense.