Kevin White not first Hillsborough commissioner to go to prison

6:47 PM, Mar 12, 2012   |    comments
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Courtroom sketch of Kevin White.

TAMPA, Fla. -- It was almost 30 years ago and I remember it vividly. I covered the arrest, the trial, and the sentencing of the three Hillsborough County commissioners who were on the take.

That scandal makes the Kevin White incident look like child's play, mainly because White couldn't deliver anything for the bribes. But back in the early 80's, if you wanted zoning passed in Hillsborough County, you had to pay to play.

The ring leader of the group was Commissioner Jerry Bowmer. He solicited most of the bribes and was caught when an FBI informant dropped off $15,000 in cash that he was supposed to split with his co-conspirators, Commissioners Fred Anderson and Joe Kotvas.

However, the scheme fell apart because the informant wore a wire. The FBI arrested Bowmer and he agreed to wear a wire as he dropped off the $5,000 in bribes to Anderson and Kotvas.

In what can only be described as a scene out of a 1950's gangster movie, the three were led out of the courthouse in handcuffs. The incident brought the county to a standstill because, at the time, there were only five members of the County Commission and, with three under arrest, there wasn't a quorum.

After a six week trial in July of 1983, Anderson and Kotvas were found guilty and sentenced to eight years in prison.

They were both indicted again on other bribery charges and Bowmer, who cooperated with the government, received three years. But then, in 1992, he was arrested again for racketeering and accused of running, of all things, a cattle-rustling operation.

Bowmer was sentenced to 12 years in prison and was released in 1998. Anderson has since died and Kotvas, who had a failed bid at elective office, became an X-ray technician. 

Two years ago, 10 News did a story exposing the fact Bowmer was selling swamp land in Pasco County that he was advertising on Craigslist.

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