MIAMI — Andrew Gillum, the Democrat who lost Florida’s 2018 gubernatorial race to Ron DeSantis, surrendered to federal authorities in Tallahassee on Wednesday after he and a close associate were charged with conspiracy and 19 counts of fraud on how they raised and used funds when he was mayor of Tallahassee and a candidate for governor.
Mr Gillum, 42, was also charged with making false statements to the FBI
He pleaded not guilty during a court appearance on Wednesday afternoon. Mr Gillum, dressed in a navy blue suit with a dark tie and a face mask, was handcuffed at the wrists and ankles, with a chain around his waist. Inside the courtroom were some of his friends and a group of reporters. He left the courthouse after his release and made no comment to the cameras and microphones waiting outside.
The once-rising Democrat, Mr Gillum, garnered less than 32,000 gubernatorial votes in 2018 – which would have made him Florida’s first black governor and a future White House hopeful – only to lose his political leadership and deal with personal struggles. In 2020, police found him in a Miami Beach hotel room where another man was suffering from a possible drug overdose.
The charges appear to stem from a federal investigation into Tallahassee City Hall that began in 2015 and involved undercover FBI agents posing as developers. The inquest’s revelations, including that Mr Gillum had socialized with the undercover officers in New York, where they took a boat ride to the Statue of Liberty and saw the hit Broadway musical “Hamilton”, were an issue in the 2018 campaign. Mr. DeSantis, a Republican, said at the time that Mr. Gillum could not be trusted to lead the state.
Mr. Gillum, who did not disclose the gifts at the time as required by state law, paid a $5,000 ethics fine in Florida in 2019.
The 21-count indictment against Mr Gillum shows a grand jury filed the charges against him on June 7. Sharon Lettman-Hicks, 53, a confidant of Mr Gillum since he was at university, was also charged. According to the indictment, she used her communications company to conceal fraudulent payments to Mr Gillum as part of his payroll.
In a statement, Mr Gillum said he had run all his political campaigns “with integrity”.
“Make no mistake, this case is not legal, it is political,” he said. “I’ve had a target on my back since I became mayor of Tallahassee. They found nothing then, and I have full confidence that my legal team will prove my innocence now.
Ms Lettman-Hicks, who is running as a Democrat for a State House seat in Tallahassee, was in a wheelchair when she appeared in court on Wednesday and pleaded not guilty. She declined to comment.
The indictment covers events involving Mr. Gillum and Ms. Lettman-Hicks from 2016 to 2019. The misrepresentation charge against Mr. Gillum relates to his interactions with undercover officers.
According to the indictment, beginning in 2016, Mr. Gillum and two unnamed associates solicited campaign contributions from undercover agents for Mr. Gillum’s new Forward Florida Political Action Committee. To keep the names of the agents confidential, the partners promised to channel the contributions through other means, including through Ms Lettman-Hicks’ company, P&P Communications. In exchange, they were promised “unencumbered government contracts”, according to one of the unnamed associates.
Mr. Gillum told one of the undercover officers that he “should separate in his mind campaign contributions and Tallahassee projects,” the indictment states, adding that Mr. Gillum also “indicated that he viewed favorably” the development projects proposed by the undercover officer.
The indictment says that when Mr. Gillum voluntarily spoke to FBI agents in 2017, he “falsely represented” that undercover agents posing as developers never offered him anything and that he had stopped communicating with them after trying to tie their contributions to supporting potential Tallahassee projects.
The fraud and conspiracy charges relate to dealings between Mr. Gillum and Ms. Lettman-Hicks regarding P&P Communications and Mr. Gillum’s campaign.
In 2017, when he became a gubernatorial candidate, Mr. Gillum resigned from his position with People for the American Way, a liberal advocacy group whose Tallahassee office was leased to Ms. Lettman-Hicks. Mr. Gillum lost his annual salary of $122,500 and Ms. Lettman-Hicks lost $3,000 in monthly rent. Mr. Gillum was also paid around $70,500 a year as mayor, a post he held from 2014 to 2018.
Mr. Gillum then became an employee of P&P Communications, where he received a monthly salary of $10,000. According to the indictment, Mr Gillum’s hiring was “just a cover used to provide him with funds he lost” after he resigned from People for the American Way.
When Mr. Gillum and Ms. Lettman-Hicks applied for a $50,000 grant from two anonymous organizations, the money was intended to be used for the Advocate for Local Solutions campaign, an effort by Mr. Gillum to fight the efforts of the state to anticipate the powers of governments. Instead, according to the indictment, that money ultimately went to P&P Communications to pay Mr Gillum.
In 2018, according to the indictment, Mr. Gillum and Ms. Lettman-Hicks defrauded an anonymous campaign donor who had donated $250,000 intended for Mr. Gillum’s campaign. Instead, $150,000 of that sum was diverted to Mr. Gillum’s political action committee and to P&P Communications.
According to the indictment, in November 2018, $130,000 from the campaign was supposed to be used to “get the vote out.” Instead, $60,000 went to P&P Communications and was used in part to pay Mr Gillum $20,000 in “bonus” payments from November 20-29, 2018.
Eventually, it was erroneously listed in Mr Gillum’s campaign finance report as a reimbursement for “Get out canvassing”.
Alexandra Glorioso contributed reporting from Tallahassee.