Andrew Gillum, former Florida gubernatorial candidate, charged with wire fraud

Written by Javed Iqbal

Gillum pleaded not guilty during a brief appearance at the United States Courthouse in Tallahassee. A trial date was set for August 16.

A 26-page jury indictment that was not sealed on Wednesday claims that Gillum and a longtime employee, Sharon Janet Lettman-Hicks, have been involved in a years-long scheme to turn political donations and funding into personal income. According to a press release from the Ministry of Justice, the two funds obtained through “false and fraudulent promises and declarations that the funds would be used for a legitimate purpose.”

Gillum is also accused of lying to the FBI during an investigation into corruption inside Tallahassee City Hall, where Gillum served as mayor, and is accused of promising political services to those who supported him financially.

Gillum, 42, and Lettman-Hicks, 53, face 21 charges, according to the press release. Making a false statement carries a prison sentence of up to five years, while the maximum prison sentence for fraud and conspiracy is each 20 years.

In a statement issued before the government announced the charges, Gillum declared his innocence and suggested that the case against him was political.

“I have spent the last 20 years of my life in public service and continue to fight for the people,” Gillum said. “Every campaign I have run has been carried out with integrity. Do not be mistaken that this case is not legal, it is political. Throughout my career, I have always stood up for the people of Florida and spoken the truth to the authorities. “

Gillum is a former CNN political commentator.

A joint statement from Marc Elias, a prominent election lawyer, and David Oscar Markus, a criminal defense attorney from Miami, said, “The government was wrong today.”

The indictment is the latest setback in the lineage of someone who was once one of the Democratic Party’s fastest growing politicians. Gillum rose to national prominence in 2018 as the first black nominee for governor in Florida history, but rose after losing to Republican Ron DeSantis in November by less than 33,000 votes. His star crashed in March 2020 when police responded to a possible call about overdose said they found Gillum in a hotel room in Miami with a bag of crystal meth and a collapsed companion. Gillum later came to rehab.
DeSanti spokeswoman Christina Pushaw wrote on Twitter Tuesday: “Thirty thousand votes … In a state with more than 21 million people. DeSantis won by 0.4%. That was what saved Florida. Your vote matters.”

The indictments span Gillum’s progress as Tallahassee mayor through his campaign for governor and his political work following his defeat. According to the indictment, from 2016, Gillum and Lettman-Hicks repeatedly used devices controlled by one or the other to request donations that would later go to personal use.

On several occasions, money donated to these units found its way to a media consulting firm owned by Lettman-Hicks, which she “then fraudulently gave Gillum for his personal use disguised as paychecks,” according to the indictment.

In one example, Gillum and Lettman-Hicks allegedly managed a $ 250,000 campaign contribution into a separate 501 (c) 4 organization “managed by an acquaintance that Gillum and Lettman-Hicks could control.” They then tried to hide the fraud, including by filing fraudulent papers, the indictment states.

“It’s like a Greek tragedy,” said John Morgan, an Orlando lawsuit lawyer who donated to Gillum’s 2018 campaign. “Andrew Gillum has single-handedly destroyed the Florida Democratic Party for the foreseeable future. And that is his legacy.”

Lettman-Hicks is listed as the executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, an LGBTQ advocacy group, and is a candidate for state representative. She has been described as a mentor to Gillum, and the two have worked closely together since Gillum’s first campaign for Tallahassee City Commissioner two decades ago. In 2019, Gillum started a new company, CJD Group, LLC. Lettman-Hicks was listed on the company registration documents filed with the state.

Questions about their working conditions first surfaced during his campaign as governor. Gillum listed work for Lettman-Hicks on government financial disclosure documents, but declined to describe her role in her business. At the same time, Gillum’s campaign rented office space from Lettman-Hicks’ organization.

After Gillum’s defeat, when he became the face of Florida Democrats and led a new effort to register voters in the state, Lettman-Hicks gained a prominent position in the state’s Democratic Party. At one point, she was the party’s highest paid employee this year according to the campaign’s finances.

In 2019, a leaked federal grand jury subpoena first suggested investigators review the ties between Gillum and Lettman-Hicks. The summons, first reported by the Tampa Bay Times, asked an employee to pass on documents related to Lettman-Hicks, Gillum, his governor’s campaign, and other organizations affiliated with both individuals. By the end of the year, a political committee to fund Gillum’s future political efforts had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on legal fees.

At the time, Lettman-Hicks wrote on Facebook that she was a “farmer used by the oppressor” to defeat Gillum.

Gillum has for years faced rumors that the FBI surrounded his political activity. His campaign as governor was pursued by an extensive federal investigation at Tallahassee City Hall that revealed Gillum had accepted Broadway tickets for the musical “Hamilton” and other perks from an undercover FBI agent posing as a developer. The investigation led to the sentencing of a Tallahassee commissioner and two businessmen, but Gillum was never charged. He ultimately settled a state ethics investigation by paying a $ 5,000 fine.

According to the indictment released on Wednesday, he lied to federal investigators when he was interviewed about Tallahassee’s public corruption. Gillum, prosecutors said, told fake FBI agents he was never offered or given anything by the developer and had stopped communicating with the developer after they tried to link political contributions to support for potential projects in Tallahassee.

Even in the midst of his legal troubles, Gillum had for a time retained his newly acquired national status after his defeat. CNN hired him as a political commentator, and Harvard University chose him to be a guest lecturer. He became a sounding board for aspiring Democratic presidential candidates in 2020, eager to gain the support of the young black leader.

After his meeting with police in South Florida in 2020, Gillum disappeared for a time. He announced that he would go to rehab and said in a statement: “I will step down from all public roles for the foreseeable future.”

But his exit from the spotlight was short. In a revealing interview later in 2020 with TV host Tamron Hall, Gillum cuts his drug addiction problems after losing to DeSantis. He said that too he identifies as bisexual.

Recently, Gillum hosted a podcast in which he interviewed prominent progressive and black thought leaders. He recently posted a discussion with Laphonza Butler, president of the abortion rights group EMILY’s List.

CNN’s Evan Perez, Lizzie Jury and Hayley Wilson contributed to this report.

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Javed Iqbal

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