TALLAHASSEE — Andrew Gillum, the former mayor of Tallahassee who came within about 34,000 votes of beating Ron DeSantis in the 2018 race for Florida governor, was indicted and arrested by federal authorities on Wednesday.
The 21-count indictment was unsealed Wednesday following 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 each count carrying a maximum of 20 years in prison. Gillum is also facing a count of making false statements to the FBI, which carries a maximum of five years in prison.
Federal prosecutors allege that Gillum, 42, and Lettman-Hicks, 53, diverted money from his political committee to pay Gillum directly, defrauding campaign megadonors and other organizations that believed they were donating to legitimate political causes.
The indictment also accuses Gillum of lying to the FBI about his infamous 2016 trip to New York, which dogged the final months of his campaign for governor.
The indictment confirms that undercover agents, posing as businesspeople looking to get government contracts in Tallahassee, paid for Gillum’s lodging at the Millennium Hilton hotel, his food and drink, a boat ride around New York Harbor and a ticket to the Broadway show “Hamilton.”
Gillum never disclosed the contributions and denied them when he officially met with the FBI in 2017, according to the indictment. He told reporters during his campaign for governor that his brother had given him the ticket to “Hamilton.”
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, it is political,” said Gillum, a Democrat. “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.”
The U.S. Department of Justice is under Attorney General Merrick Garland, who was selected by President Joe Biden, a Democrat.
According to court records, Lettman-Hicks agreed to surrender to the FBI at 11 a.m. Last week, she officially qualified to run for a state House seat in District 8.
Gillum appeared in a federal courtroom in Tallahassee on Wednesday afternoon, his navy suit and tie clashing with the handcuffs around his wrists and shackles around his ankles. Lettman-Hicks sat near him 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 declined to comment to reporters after the hearing. She also pleaded not guilty.
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The indictment alleges that Gillum and Lettman-Hicks diverted campaign donations and contributions to other organizations they controlled to their personal accounts, in violation of state and federal law.
More specifically, Gillum and Lettman-Hicks defrauded an unnamed megadonor of $150,000 of the $250,000 the person donated to Gillum’s campaign for governor, according to the indictment.
Instead of depositing the full $250,000 into Gillum’s campaign accounts, the indictment accuses Gillum and Lettman-Hicks of diverting it to a separate unnamed organization they controlled. Prosecutors say that $100,000 was then sent to Gillum’s campaign account, known as Forward Florida.
The rest was sent to Lettman-Hicks’ marketing company, P&P Communications, via a “fraudulent” agreement with the unnamed organization. The organization paid P&P to provide a “voter education program” that didn’t exist, according to the indictment.
“Pursuant to the fraudulent contract, P&P obtained $132,500 of Individual F’s campaign contribution, which was then disbursed to Lettman-Hicks and Gillum,” the indictment states.
John Morgan, an Orlando-based lawyer and longtime Florida political player who fundraised for Gillum, said he doesn’t know if he is “Individual F,” but that he has not spoken to federal law enforcement. He wrote a $250,000 check to Gillum’s political committee, but it was outside the time frame specified in the indictment.
“He has single-handedly destroyed the Democratic Party in the state of Florida for the foreseeable future,” Morgan said of Gillum. Morgan has criticized Gillum in the past for failing to spend all his campaign money before losing the race for governor.
The indictment also accuses Gillum and Lettman-Hicks of diverting $60,000 from the Gillum for Governor campaign account to P&P. Although the money was supposed to be used for get-out-the-vote efforts, the indictment states that Lettman-Hicks used it to make six payments of $5,000 each to Gillum’s personal account. Four of the payments were marked as “end of year bonus.”
Prosecutors also allege Gillum personally benefited from another organization he created in 2016: the “Campaign to Defend Local Solutions,” which was designed, Gillum said, to combat Republican efforts to preempt local governments.
Gillum told donors he was raising $250,000 to hire an organizer and media firm, with the National Black Justice Coalition, a nonprofit run by Lettman-Hicks, accepting the money.
Two different organizations gave $100,000 each to the Campaign to Defend Local Solutions, but prosecutors said Lettman-Hicks diverted $50,000 of that to her own marketing company and used “most” of it to pay Gillum.
The indictment furthers Gillum’s fall from grace 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 during that time, news reports had revealed that the FBI was looking into his activities as Tallahassee mayor.
After he lost 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 inebriated to talk, with two other men and three bags of suspected crystal meth on the bed and the floor. No arrests were made at the time.
At Wednesday’s court hearing, Stampelos ordered both Gillum and Lettman-Hicks to be released without the requirement of posting bail, but told them they could not speak with each other.
Lettman-Hicks’ attorney, a federal public defender, then disclosed that they both still work for a foundation where they might speak with each other. The foundation was not named.
Federal prosecutors objected, but Gillum’s attorney assured that their contact at the foundation was minimal, consisting mostly of emails.
“We’re all concerned about money passing hands,” Stampelos said. “You’re both adults. You can’t talk about this case.”
Gillum and Lettman-Hicks were ordered released.
“He’s innocent, and we look forward to not guilty verdicts at the end of trial,” Gillum’s attorney, Todd Yoder, told reporters afterward.