Andrew Gillum, former Tallahassee mayor and Democratic nominee for governor, was indicted on federal charges involving campaign contributions he and associates unlawfully solicited from undercover FBI agents during a long-running investigation into public corruption in Tallahassee.
One of Gillum’s closest advisers, Sharon Lettman-Hicks, also was charged in the 21-count indictment. Lettman-Hicks recently qualified to run for the Florida House seat in District 8.
Gillum, 42, and Lettman-Hicks, 53, were arrested Wednesday by the FBI, though they were allowed to surrender. At their first appearance that afternoon at the US Courthouse in Tallahassee, Gillum and Lettman-Hicks pleaded not guilty to federal public corruption charges.
Gilllum walked into the courtroom wearing leg shackles and handcuffs with a chain around his waist. US Magistrate Judge George Stampelos ordered pretrial release with conditions for Gillum and Lettman-Hicks.
The trial is set for Aug. 16, though that date will almost certainly be moved back.
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The charges marked an explosive development in the federal government’s investigations into public corruption in Tallahassee and another grim chapter in the life of Gillum, who once seemed to lead a charmed political existence.
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He was first elected to the Tallahassee City Commission in 2003 when he was just 23 years old and won the mayor’s race in 2014 with overwhelming support. He ran for governor in 2018, securing the Democratic nomination in an upset but narrowly losing to Republican Ron DeSantis. He was briefly mentioned as vice presidential prospect by Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
The FBI began investigating a who’s-who of Tallahassee politicians, Gillum included, in 2015. And while former City Commissioner Scott Maddox and others were later indicted, Gillum seemed to escape any charges until now.
A collection of coverage:Catch up on The Tallahassee Democrat’s five years of coverage of the undercover operation
‘There’s been a target on my back’
The federal grand jury issued a sealed indictment against Gillum and Lettman-Hicks on June 7, according to court records. It was ordered unsealed on Wednesday.
Both Gillum and Lettman-Hicks were charged with 19 counts of wire fraud and one county of attempt and conspiracy to commit mail fraud. Gillum also was charged with making false statements for allegedly lying to the FBI during an interview in June 2017, not long after he announced his bid for Florida governor.
The US Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Florida said in their announcement that Gillum and Lettman-Hicks conspired to commit wire fraud between 2016 and 2019. They unlawfully solicited and obtained funds from undercover FBI agents and others “through false and fraudulent promises and representations that the funds would be used for a legitimate purpose,” the government said.
Gillum, who served as mayor from 2014 to 2018 after more than a decade as a city commissioner, denied any wrongdoing in a prepared statement issued through his campaign.
“I have spent the last 20 years of my life in public service and continue to fight for the people,” Gillum said in a prepared statement. “Every campaign I’ve run has been done with integrity. Make no mistake that this case is not legal, it is political.”
Gillum went on to say, “Throughout my career I have always stood up for the people of Florida and have spoken truth to power. There’s been a target on my back ever since I was the mayor of Tallahassee. They found nothing then, and I have full confidence that my legal team will prove my innocence now.”
Tale of the text messages:
Marc Elias, a prominent Democratic Party elections lawyer, and David Oscar Markus, a Miami criminal-defense attorney, issued a statement saying Gillum would be cleared of the allegations.
“The government got it wrong today,” the lawyers said. “The evidence in this case is clear and will show that Mr. Gillum is innocent of all charges. We look forward to putting this case to rest and giving Andrew and his family peace of mind once and for all.”
FBI City Hall corruption investigation, undercover agents who took down Scott Maddox key in Gillum case
The investigation into Gillum, which has been chronicled for years by the Tallahassee Democrat, involved the same undercover FBI agents who posed as out-of-town developers willing to cough up bribes to local officials to advance their purported real-estate deals.
“Operation Capital Currency,” which began in 2015, led to federal bribery convictions against former Mayor and City Commissioner Scott Maddox, his longtime aide Paige Carter-Smith and wealthy businessman and political donor John “JT” Burnette. All three were sentenced last year to federal prison stints.
According to the latest indictment, former lobbyist and one-time Gillum friend Adam Corey suggested to one of the agents that he pay for dinner at a campaign fundraiser for his gubernatorial political committee, Forward Florida.
More:Andrew Gillum’s other job: P&P Communications shares building with campaign HQ
Corey, identified in the indictment as Individual A, hosted the fundraiser in April 2016. The undercover agent paid $4,386 for the dinner.
The indictment also referenced a notorious trip Gillum took in August 2016 with Corey and others to New York City, where they palled around with the undercover agents.
The indictment says the FBI paid for Gillum’s room at the Millennium Hilton, tickets to the Broadway show “Hamilton,” food and drinks and a fancy boat ride to the Statue of Liberty. Gillum, however, never reported the gifts as required by state law.
Those interactions led to state ethics charges and a $5,000 fine against Gillum, who pleaded guilty to avoid the public spectacle of an ethics trial. News of the FBI investigation and its intersections with Gillum plagued him during his 2018 campaign for governor, which he lost to DeSantis by about the 32,000 votes.
The indictment also says a Gillum associate identified only as Individual B discussed a $25,000 campaign donation with the undercover agents that would be funneled through Lettman-Hicks’ consulting firm, P&P Communications. Individual B later suggested an amount of $75,000 for Gillum’s support for three different projects.
One of the agents met with Gillum in March 2017 in Tallahassee to discuss the real-estate projects and campaign donations, according to the indictment. The agent offered to give $100,000 “if a certain project was viable.”
“Gillum told (the agent) that (he) should separate in his mind the campaign contributions and the Tallahassee projects, and then indicated he looked favorably on (the agent’s) projects,” the indictment says.
In 2019, both Gillum and Lettman-Hicks appeared to be under the cloud of an FBI investigation involving his campaign for governor. A federal grand jury in Tallahassee issued at least one subpoena demanding records involving his gubernatorial campaign and his political action committee, Forward Florida.
Lettman-Hicks, who qualified last week to run for the Florida House District 8 seat, was asked about that investigation in a recent interview with the Democrat.
“Nothing came of it,” she said.
Gillum stepped away from politics after a March 2020 incident in which he was found passed out in a Miami Beach hotel room with two other men, one of whom was suffering from a possible overdose. Plastic baggies of suspected meth were found in the room, though Gillum denied ever using the drug.
Gillum and the FBI investigation:
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