Andrew Gillum’s ethics case continues after Florida commission finds cause

Gillum did not attend Friday’s hearing.
Photo of Gillum's trip in NYC. Andrew Gillum, Adam Corey
Photo of Gillum's trip in NYC. Andrew Gillum, Adam Corey
Published Jan. 25, 2019|Updated Jan. 25, 2019

TALLAHASSEE — An ethics complaint against former Tallahassee mayor and Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum is moving forward after state officials found probable cause on five of six counts that Gillum violated ethics laws by allegedly accepting gifts during trips with lobbyists in 2016.

Though records in the case have not yet been made public by the state Commission on Ethics, Gillum’s lawyer Barry Richard said Friday after the closed-door hearing at the First District Court of Appeal that the case would next go before an administrative law judge, likely in the next 45 to 60 days.

“We’re going to have a full evidentiary hearing before an independent judge. It’ll be open to the public, and everybody can decide for themselves,” he told reporters. “There for sure will be no settlement.”

Tallahassee businessman Erwin Jackson, who filed the complaint, cast the decision to carry the case forward as a success: “This is a victory for the good ones,” he said.

Gillum did not attend Friday’s hearing.

Jackson, a longtime critic of Tallahassee city hall, alleged in his complaint, filed last year, that the former mayor had received gifts above a state $100 limit on trips to Costa Rica and New York City. Florida law prohibits public officials from accepting gifts over $100 from lobbyists, though family members have exceptions.

All five counts on which probable cause was found involve two trips Gillum took with lobbyist and former friend Adam Corey before Gillum launched his campaign for governor, according to commission documents obtained by the Herald/Times. A report authored by an advocate for the state commission late last year recommended that investigation on those counts — largely involving Gillum’s stay at a villa in Costa Rica, and a boat trip and Broadway musical “Hamilton” tickets in New York City — proceed.

The report’s recommendations were largely on the basis that Gillum accepted gifts and “things of value” when he understood his official actions would be influenced, “in return for access and influence,” or when he knew or should have known they were intended to influence his actions. The report also recommended probable cause be found that Gillum accepted gifts on those trips knowing or “reasonably believ[ing]” they exceeded the state $100 limit, and that he failed to report gifts he received.

The sixth count, alleging Gillum solicited a gift from a lobbyist doing business with the city, was found by the commission to have no probable cause.

The trips in question occurred amid an FBI investigation into public corruption in Tallahassee, and both became flash points during Gillum’s unsuccessful run for governor.

Gillum and his wife had traveled to Costa Rica in May 2016 with friends including Corey — who became a nexus in the FBI probe — and lawyer and lobbyist Sean Pittman, one of Gillum’s closest political advisers. The Gillums stayed in a villa for multiple nights, and during the trip Corey invited Gillum to meet with “Mike Miller,” one of the undercover agents in town under the guise of an Atlanta developer.

Gillum also traveled that year to New York City as an employee of the People for the American Way Foundation, where he went on multiple excursions with his brother Marcus, Corey, Miller, and another undercover FBI agent tied to the case. Among the trips in question were a boat tour around the Statue of Liberty and tickets to the hit Broadway musical “Hamilton.” Gillum also stayed for one night in his brother’s room at the Millennium Hilton in the city.

After Gillum won the Democratic primary, he released records that he said indicated he paid for his own expenses on both trips. He said he was told the boat was borrowed from a friend, and that he had swapped concert tickets with his brother to compensate him for the “Hamilton” ticket.

He has also repeatedly said he was told by the FBI that he was not a subject or target of the corruption investigation and denied any wrongdoing.

(No charges have been brought against Gillum in the FBI case, which led to the indictment of former city commissioner Scott Maddox on bribery and racketeering charges in December.)

Asked about his dealings with Corey, Gillum had also characterized Corey during the campaign as a former friend who misled him. But the state ethics complaint drew fresh attention near the end of the election, when Corey’s lawyer, Chris Kise, released hundreds of pages of records he said were given to investigators as part of the case.

Those records showed the degree to which undercover FBI agents had looked into Gillum, arranging some of the excursions for Gillum and his brother on the New York trip and picking up the “Hamilton” tickets. They also showed that one of the agents contributed to a fundraiser for the former mayor in Tallahassee.

Friday’s finding is not in and of itself a determination of guilt. Gillum’s decision to not settle with the commission — which would likely involve admitting some fault — means the case will move next to the Division of Administrative Hearings in a public hearing.

Despite his loss in November, Gillum has remained talked-about as a potential 2020 power player, buoyed by his fundraising influence and volunteer lists in swing state Florida.