Andrew Gillum, the former mayor of Tallahassee who came in about 34,000 votes of beating Ron DeSantis in the 2018 race for Florida governor was charged and arrested by federal authorities on Wednesday.
The 21-count indictment was unlocked on Wednesday after his arrest. Gillum and his political adviser, Sharon Janet Lettman-Hicks, are charged with 19 counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, with a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison on each count. Gillum is also charged with making false statements to the FBI, which carries a maximum jail term of five years.
Federal prosecutors allege Gillum, 42, and Lettman-Hicks, 53, diverted money from his political commission to pay Gillum directly, defrauding mega-donors and organizations that believed they were donating to legitimate political causes.
The indictment also accuses Gillum of lying to the FBI about: his infamous trip to New York in 2016, who haunted the final months of his campaign for governor.
The indictment confirms that undercover agents, posing as businessmen seeking government contracts in Tallahassee, will find Gillum’s lodging at the Millennium Hilton hotel, his food and drink, a boat trip through New York Harbor and a ticket to the Broadway show.” Hamilton.”
According to the indictment, Gillum never disclosed the contributions and declined them during an official meeting with the FBI in 2017. He told reporters during his campaign for governor that his brother had given him the ticket to “Hamilton.”
Gillum makes a statement
In a statement Wednesday, Gillum said the case was politically motivated.
“Every campaign I’ve run has been done with integrity. Make no mistake that this case is not legal, but political,” said Gillum, a Democrat. “Ever since I was mayor of Tallahassee, I’ve had a target on my back. They found nothing then and I am confident that my legal team will now prove my innocence.”
The United States Department of Justice is under Attorney General Merrick Garland, who was elected by President Joe Biden, a Democrat.
Lettman-Hicks did not respond to an email on Wednesday morning requesting comment on the charges. According to court records, she agreed to surrender to the FBI at 11 a.m. Last week, she officially qualified to run for a seat in the state house in District 8.
Gillum appeared in a federal courtroom in Tallahassee Wednesday afternoon, his naval suit and tie collided with the handcuffs on his wrists and cuffs on his ankles. Lettman-Hicks sat next to him, handcuffed and in a wheelchair.
Gillum sat with his hands crossed in his lap before pleading not guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Charlie Stampelos.
Lettman-Hicks, who also made a plea of innocent, declined to comment to reporters after the hearing.
The indictment alleges that Gillum and Lettman-Hicks funneled campaign donations and donations to other organizations they controlled into their personal accounts, in violation of state and federal law.
According to the indictment, Gillum and Lettman-Hicks defrauded an unnamed megadonor of $150,000 of the $250,000 the person donated to Gillum’s campaign for governor.
Rather than deposit the entire $250,000 into Gillum’s campaign accounts, the indictment accuses Gillum and Lettman-Hicks of forwarding it to a separate unnamed organization that they controlled. Prosecutors say $100,000 was subsequently transferred to Gillum’s campaign account, known as Forward Florida.
The rest were sent to Lettman-Hicks’ marketing firm, P&P Communications, through a “fraudulent” agreement with the unnamed organization. The organization paid P&P to provide a “voter education program” that the indictment alleged did not exist.
Under the fraudulent contract, P&P received $132,500 of Individual F’s campaign contribution, which was then paid to Lettman-Hicks and Gillum, the indictment said.
John Morgan, an Orlando attorney and longtime Florida political player who raised money for Gillum, said he doesn’t know if he’s “Individual F” but said he hasn’t spoken to federal police. He wrote a check for $250,000 to Gillum’s political committee, but it fell outside the time frame stated in the indictment.
“He single-handedly destroyed the Democratic Party in the state of Florida in the near future,” Morgan said of Gillum. Morgan has criticized Gillum in the past for not spending all of his campaign money before losing the race for governor.
More money reportedly diverted
The indictment also accuses Gillum and Lettman-Hicks of diverting $60,000 from Gillum for Governor’s campaign account to P&P. Although the money was intended to get votes, the charges allege Lettman-Hicks used it to make six payments of $5,000 each into Gillum’s personal account. Four of the payments were marked as ‘year-end bonus’.
Prosecutors also allege that Gillum personally profited from another organization he created in 2016: The “Campaign to Defend Local Solutions,” which was designed, Gillum said, to counter Republican efforts to prioritize local governments.
Gillum told donors he raised $250,000 to hire an organizer and media company, with the National Black Justice Coalition, a nonprofit run by Lettman-Hicks, who accepted the money.
Two different organizations each gave $100,000 to the campaign to defend local solutions, but prosecutors said Lettman-Hicks funneled $50,000 of that into her own marketing firm and used “most of it” to pay Gillum.
The indictment furthers Gillum’s fall from favor after he became a national progressive darling during his 2018 campaign for Florida governor, when he became the Democratic nominee in a historic upset. But even at that time, news reports had revealed that the FBI investigated his activities as mayor of Tallahassee.
After losing the governor’s race by a margin small enough to trigger a machine recount, Gillum remained in the public eye, including as a commentator on CNN. But in March 2020, police said they responded to an overdose call and found him in a South Beach hotel room, too drunk to talk, with two other men and three bags of suspected crystal meth on the bed and floor. No arrests were made at the time.
Released without bail, but not talking to each other
During Wednesday’s court hearing, Stampelos ordered both Gillum and Lettman-Hicks to be released without bail, but told them they couldn’t talk to each other.
The attorney for Lettman-Hicks, a federal public defender, then revealed that they both still work for a foundation where they could talk to each other. The foundation was not mentioned.
Federal prosecutors objected, but Gillum’s attorney assured that their contact with the foundation was minimal, mostly from emails.
“We’re all concerned about passing money on,” Stampelos said. “You are both adults. You are not allowed to talk about this matter.”
Gillum and Lettman-Hicks were released.
“He is innocent and we look forward to not guilty verdicts at the end of the trial,” Gillum’s attorney, Todd Yoder, told reporters afterwards.