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Burden on prosecution, jury told in White trial

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Published:   |   Updated: March 21, 2013 at 05:17 AM
TAMPA -

Seven women and five men were seated as jurors Monday in the Kevin White public corruption trial after telling a federal judge they would consider him innocent unless he is proved guilty beyond reasonable doubt.

The former Hillsborough County commissioner is charged with 10 counts, including bribery, conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and lying to an FBI agent.

But U.S. District Judge James D. Whittemore told potential jurors that U.S. Attorney Robert O'Neill would have the burden of proving White guilty.

"The entire burden rests on the prosecutor's shoulders, never on the defense," Whittemore said.

The jurors were chosen from a pool of 53 after nearly five hours of questioning by Whittemore, O'Neill and Grady Irvin, White's lead defense attorney.

Questions included whether they had ever sat on a jury, if any of their family members were in law enforcement and whether they were frequent users of social media. Whittemore warned the pool members that if they were chosen as jurors, they couldn't discuss the trial with anyone, including on Facebook or Twitter.

A number of potential jurors said they had heard about the case, and a few said they had formed impressions unfavorable to White. Irvin had those pool members excused.

The defense attorney also struck one of the two black members in the pool, a former investigator for the New York Transit Authority.

The retired detective said that, in his experience, the FBI didn't bring a case to the U.S. Attorney unless there was "some meat." That was the especially the case, he said, when agents were able to get a confidential informant to infiltrate a criminal conspiracy as is alleged in White's case.

The elimination of the retired transit detective left one black woman who was chosen for the jury. White was the only black county commissioner when he served from 2006 to 2010.

The final jury includes a nurse who is also a disabled veteran, an engineer who works on cell towers, a hair stylist, a Safety Harbor building official, a Sarasota County land planner, and two academics from Florida Southern College in Lakeland. Jurors are chosen from counties in west-central Florida that make up the U.S. District Court's Middle District.

The jurors are scheduled to begin listening to O'Neill's and Irvin's opening statements this morning. Then the prosecution will begin trying to prove White abused his position as commissioner and chairman of the county Public Transportation Commission by soliciting and accepting bribes.

The government's case is built upon 165 audio and video recordings that, according to prosecutors, show White and his now-deceased father, Gerald, soliciting and accepting thousands of dollars and free meals from a confidential informant and an undercover federal agent. In return, White was supposed to help a towing company win a spot on a tow-truck rotation used by law enforcement.

Irvin told the court the recordings would be laced with what he called "boy talk," including profanity and sexist comments.

"You're going to hear a lot of things about women," Irvin said.

Some of those provocative comments, he said, refer to former County Commissioner Rose Ferlita a frequent critic of White's when they served together. After White lost a sexual harassment case in 2009, Ferlita tried to get him to pay something toward the legal fees the county amassed as a co-defendant in the case. White refused.

Irvin made a motion to have the recorded comments about Ferlita excluded but then withdrew his motion.

"You can't excerpt all the profanities," he explained later.

However, Irvin was successful in excluding testimony about the sexual harassment lawsuit and a $9,500 state fine White had to pay the state Elections Commission for using campaign contributions to buy tailored suits and ties.

Both sides released witness lists and they included some notables. White's list includes former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco.

"I don't know what the hell it's about," Greco said late Monday afternoon. Greco said he called Irvin about being subpoenaed and Irvin responded by asking Greco if he knew Gerald White. Greco said he knew all the White family, but Kevin least.

Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill is on both the prosecution and defense lists. Merrill said he is scheduled to testify for the government today. He said he couldn't discuss why O'Neill wants him as a witness.

The trial is expected to last two weeks.


msalinero@tampatrib.com (813) 259-8303

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