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Gillum's Attorney Says Ethics Probe Much Ado About Nothing As Candidate Releases Receipts

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Florida’s Commission on Ethics is investigating a complaint filed against Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum. It calls for a look into two trips Gillum took with lobbyists in 2016, and prompted his campaign to release receipts to show a paper trail. The Democratic gubernatorial candidate’s attorney isn’t optimistic about the matter being resolved before the general election.

The complaint began with a local businessman and frequent critic of City Hall that Gillum is surely familiar with. Erwin Jackson, a fixture at City meetings, previously filed a complaint with the State Ethics Commission that ousted a Tallahassee City Manager for taking gifts like pricy football tickets. Jackson claims lobbyists paid for Gillum’s trips – one to New York City and one to Costa Rica.

“Those two trips, I’ve modified my initial complaint with the trip to New York … Now we’ve got a second trip where he’s taken money and gifts,” Jackson said in June, when he filed the complaint.

The trips were unrelated to Gillum’s mayoral post – but he was accompanied by lobbyists on both.

“Andrew Gillum went over there with Adam Corey, city lobbyist and Sean Pittman, city lobbyist,” Jackson said, citing the Costa Rica trip. Gillum’s campaign says that trip was a part of his wife’s birthday celebration.

“Gillum says that he paid for his as well, but he just paid cash,” Jackson said. “So he has no credit card receipts – which most people aren’t going to believe.”

Gillum’s attorney, Barry Richard, says Gillum met with an Ethics Commission investigator recently.

“They have an investigator who does his research, he interviews people. I don’t know if he’s finished with his interviews or not,” Richard said. “We had an interview with him this past Tuesday, this week. So he had not completed his investigation at least by Tuesday.”

Hours after the meeting, Gillum’s campaign posted on its website receipts intended to show Gillum did in fact pay his way on the trips. One is a $400 cash withdrawal Gillum says he used to pay for his “share” of a villa in Costa Rica, which he shared with lobbyists. Richard insists there is nothing inappropriate to be found.

“Andrew produced all of his receipts to show that they paid for their food, they paid for their travel – everything they paid for with a credit card. And he gave some cash to Adam to reimburse him for the few nights in the room,” Richard said. “So, all these things are like – they’re being treated like it’s a big investigation. There’s nothing involved here – nobody is suggesting anybody paid for any favors. It’s just a bunch of silly business.”

There, Richard refers to lobbyist Adam Corey, who is connected to an FBI investigation of corruption in Tallahassee government. Corey’s lawyer, Christopher Kise, told the Associated Press his client never received cash reimbursement from Gillum – and that Corey won the accommodations in a charity auction.

During the trip to New York, Gillum and Corey were accompanied at times by an undercover FBI agent. Together, they saw a Broadway musical, which the campaign said was provided by Gillum’s brother through a “swap” for another concert ticket.  Gillum has produced a bill for his hotel stay, and says his airfare was paid for through another job he held, with the foundation People For The American Way.

Again, Richard says it’s a non-issue.

“He met his brother in New York to go see Hamilton, and his brother gave him a ticket to Hamilton. So, there’s a big uproar over, where did the ticket come from? Did it come from Adam Corey, because Corey went as well,” Richard said. “Adam Corey and Andrew and his brother have been friends since college, and they socialize a lot. But nobody, including Corey, has said that Corey gave them the ticket. Andrew got the ticket from his brother. So, it’s just a speculative issue that is not based on anything.”

The Gillum campaign’s document dump has become fodder for criticism from his competitor in the governor’s race. The campaign for Republican Congressman Ron DeSantis is calling Gillum’s release of documents “incomplete.”

Included in the release of Gillum’s bank records was a poorly-redacted document showing a $15,000 dollar transfer from a savings to checking account made around the time of the trip.  The Miami Herald, Politico and others reported on the transfer, which Richard says is making much out of nothing.

“Where it came form was Andrew’s savings account, and he transferred it to his checking account to pay expenses,” Richard said.

Though he maintains his client did nothing inappropriate, Richard does not think the Ethics Commission will have a complete finding until after the general election in November. The Commission has one more meeting, on October 19, before votes are cast.

Ryan Dailey is a reporter/producer for WFSU/Florida Public Radio. After graduating from Florida State University, Ryan went into print journalism working for the Tallahassee Democrat for five years. At the Democrat, he worked as a copy editor, general assignment and K-12 education reporter.