TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Andrew Gillum, the 2018 Democratic nominee for Florida governor, has been indicted on 21 federal charges including conspiracy and wire fraud for funneling donations through third parties back to himself for personal use, prosecutors said Wednesday.
The U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Florida said Gillum, 42, is also charged with making false statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for claiming he didn’t receive or ask for anything from two undercover agents posing as developers. The undercover agents offered gifts and money in exchange for support for projects.
Sharon Janet Lettman-Hicks, 53 and the owner of a communications company, is a codefendant on the wire fraud charges for funneling money to Gillum in the form of paychecks, U.S. Attorney Jason R. Coody said in a statement.
Prosecutors said the pair “conspired to commit wire fraud, by unlawfully soliciting and obtaining funds from various entities and individuals through false and fraudulent promises and representations that the funds would be used for a legitimate purpose.”
Gillum, in a statement released through his lawyers, denied the charges.
“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," the statement said. "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.
He made his first appearance in federal court Wednesday afternoon, entering the courtroom shackled at the ankles and wrists. He and Lettman-Hicks pleaded not guilty to all charges. A trial date was set for Aug. 16. Both were released without bail with instructions not to leave the Northern District of Florida without permission.
Gillum met with undercover FBI agents posing as developers while he was mayor and during his campaign for governor. His associates sought donations from the agents, and suggested ways to provide money without listing them as political contributions, including paying for a fundraising dinner, according to the indictment.
The agents were asked to contribute $100,000 to Gillum's campaign and said the money could be given to a private company in order to keep the agents' names out of campaign finance documents. The agents said they would want favorable consideration on development projects and were told that wouldn't be a problem, according to the indictment.
The agents also met with Gillum in New York City and paid for his hotel, food and drink, a boat ride and a ticket to see “Hamilton,” according to the indictment.
Later, other FBI agents interviewed Gillum and asked if he had contact with the undercover agents. Gillum told them that he never asked for or received anything from the “developers," and stopped communicating with them after they tried to link contributions to support for their projects, the indictment said.
An individual not named in the indictment donated $250,000 to Gillum’s political committee, but only $100,000 was put toward the campaign. Gillum and Lettman-Hicks said most of the remaining money was going to a voter education program, knowing the service wouldn’t be provided, according to the indictment.
Instead, the money went to Lettman-Hicks’ company. She kept some and funneled the rest back to Gillum in several payments ranging from nearly $3,600 to $10,000 each.
It's the latest trouble for Gillum, who lost to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in a race that required a recount. Gillum fell 32,464 votes short of being elected out of more than 8.2 million ballots cast.
Gillum served as mayor of Tallahassee before running for governor. He won a crowded Democratic primary against better funded candidates with 34.4% of the vote, stunning political observers. The charismatic politician won over the hearts of hardcore Democratic activists and ran a strong grassroots campaign.
After losing, Gillum was still seen as a rising star in Democratic politics and was hired as a CNN analyst.
Then, in March 2020, Gillum was found intoxicated and unconscious in a hotel room with two men, including one who works as a male escort. Two days later he entered a rehabilitation center, and later did a television interview in which he said he's bisexual.
An attorney for Gillum's codefendant Lettman-Hicks didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment from The Associated Press.