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Former Democratic candidate for Florida governor indicted

Orlando Sentinel logoOrlando Sentinel 6 days ago Steven Lemongello and Jeffrey Schweers, Orlando Sentinel
Former gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum speaks during a press conference with the Florida Democratic Party and Forward Florida Action Partnership about registering voters in Florida at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Florida, on May 16, 2019. © OCTAVIO JONES/Tampa Bay Times/TNS Former gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum speaks during a press conference with the Florida Democratic Party and Forward Florida Action Partnership about registering voters in Florida at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Florida, on May 16, 2019.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Andrew Gillum, who narrowly lost to Ron DeSantis four years ago, was indicted Wednesday on federal charges of conspiracy, wire fraud and making false statements during his time as Tallahassee mayor and run for governor.

The indictment comes five years after the FBI issued its first set of subpoenas to several public officials and business owners. The investigation led to the convictions last year of former Tallahassee City Commissioner Scott Maddox, his business partner Paige Carter-Smith and developer J.T. Burnette.

Gillum proclaimed his innocence in a statement sent out by his attorneys before the indictment was unsealed in Tallahassee.

Gillum, the first Black candidate for governor in Florida history, won a surprise victory over former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, Miami Mayor Phil Levine, and others in a crowded Democratic Party primary. He lost by just 0.4%, or about 32,000 votes, to DeSantis in November.

The indictment charges Gillum with defrauding one contributor to his 2018 campaign, “Individual F,” of $150,000 of his $250,000 contribution, according to the indictment. It alleges Gillum and his associate Sharon Lettman-Hicks put that money into a separate 501(c)(4) organization and later filed fraudulent campaign reports to cover it up.

Three of the counts involved Lettman-Hicks sending text messages including needing “to move 250K... ASAP” and that the contributor was “breathing down (her) neck and may demand his money back.”

Orlando attorney John Morgan, who along with his firm gave Gillum’s campaign for governor more than $3 million in 2018, has long criticized him for how his campaign money was spent.

“At this point, nothing about him would surprise me,” Morgan said in an email Wednesday. “He kept my money and others. Millions. He didn’t spend it on the campaign and lost by a whisker. He destroyed the Democratic Party forever in Florida.”

Morgan said he had “no idea” who “Individual F” in the indictment was.

Other charges from his time as Tallahassee mayor involve many of the same allegations as the ethics violations he was accused of in 2018, including gifts of a boat trip around New York harbor and tickets to the hit Broadway musical “Hamilton.”


Video: Andrew Gillum concedes to Ron DeSantis in Florida governor's race (USA TODAY)

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Undercover FBI agents posing as developers for a fictitious Southern Pines project wanting to do business with Tallahassee paid for Gillum’s hotel room, food and beverage, the boat trip and the “Hamilton” tickets, which he failed to disclose as gifts while mayor.

The FBI also paid $4,386 for a fundraiser for Gillum’s gubernatorial campaign at the home of developer Adam Corey, a friend of Gillum’s since college who volunteered on his mayoral campaign. Gillum was instrumental in getting Corey a lease and $2 million in tax dollars to build a restaurant.

Gillum lied to investigators about taking money or gifts from them, the indictment said.

The charges hand’t been filed Wednesday morning when attorneys Marc Elias and David Oscar Markus sent out a statement stating, “The government got it wrong today.”

“The evidence in this case is clear and will show that Mr. Gillum is innocent of all charges,” Elias and Markus wrote. “We look forward to putting this case to rest and giving Andrew and his family peace of mind once and for all.”

As part of the email, Gillum wrote in a statement, “I have spent the last 20 years of my life in public service and continue to fight for the people.”

“Every campaign I’ve run has been done with integrity.” Gillum wrote. “Make no mistake that this case is not legal, it is political. 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.”

In 2020, Miami Beach police found Gillum in a hotel room with two other people and three small plastic bags containing suspected crystal meth. He entered a rehab facility shortly afterward, blaming his downfall on addiction and depression.

Gillum’s campaign was clouded over the final month by allegations of ethics violations involving his time as mayor for allegedly accepting gifts from Tallahassee entrepreneur Adam Corey and undercover FBI agents posing as developers as part of a federal investigation into corruption.

He agreed in 2019 to pay a $5,000 fine in a settlement reached with a state ethics commission attorney.

In return, the attorney agreed to drop four of five charges of ethics violations related to trips Gillum took to Costa Rica and New York.

Democratic supporters, including Morgan, criticized Gillum for not spending $3 million of the $39 million his Forward Florida PAC raised for the governor’s race, but he promised to use that money to register people to vote and “turn Florida blue.”

He founded a nonprofit, Forward Florida Action, to increase Democratic voter turnout in the state, but questions were raised about how much was being raised and where the money went. A $100,000 cardboard check presented to the state party that year turned out to not have been twinned with an actual contribution, Florida Politics wrote.

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