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Andrew Gillum's political career hits new low with federal fraud charges

Former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum gets into a white Chevy Tahoe after leaving a U.S. Courthouse in Tallahassee on Wednesday, June 22, 2022.
Lydell Rawls
Former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum gets into a white Chevy Tahoe after leaving a U.S. Courthouse in Tallahassee on Wednesday, June 22, 2022.

Former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum’s recent indictment on federal fraud charges has gotten mixed reactions from local residents.

For some, it came as no surprise. Others cautioned against rushing to judgment.

“Ye without sin cast the first stone,” said resident Stanley Sims, speaking at a recent city commission meeting.

Long-time citizen watchdog Erwin Jackson says he played a central role in the federal corruption investigation that ultimately led to Gillum’s indictment on charges related to campaign contributions. “I went t the FBI because there was no local help here.”

Over the last several years, Jackson has filed numerous ethics complaints against city officials, including Gillum. Jackson says he believes Gillum will eventually face more “serious criminal charges” stemming from his time as mayor. “This is his first indictment, but I don’t think it will be his last.”

Local attorney Chuck Hobbs is a long-time friend of Gillum and co-defendant Sharon Lettman-Hicks. Hobbs published an article on his SubStack page urging people to keep in mind that they two have been charged, not convicted. The two are scheduled to appear before a jury on Aug.16 when their trial begins.

“The pair's “not guilty” shrouds them with the same presumption of innocence that each and every person that is accused of a crime receives at the beginning of a case,” Hobbs writes.

Jackson spoke at a city commission meeting following news of Gillum’s indictment. “It’s sad for the children and family members, but it’s a step in the right direction,” Jackson said. And I believe we’re only about halfway there.”

At the meeting, he called on commissioners to pass an ordinance that prevents anyone who’s been charged with a felony from registering as a lobbyist. He expressed concern that former Mayor Scott Maddox, who’s serving a time in prison for public corruption, and former Mayor Andrew Gillum, who’s now facing fraud charges related to his campaign, could get become lobbyists again.

Former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum pleaded not guilty to fraud charges this week after a 21-count federal grand jury indictment against him was unsealed.

Gillum is accused of lying to the FBI and pocketing campaign contributions. The charges are a rock bottom for Gillum, who was a rising star in Florida politics until allegations of corruption emerged.

Gillum got an early start in politics. At the age of 23, he became the youngest person elected to the city commission. He was featured in Ebony Magazine and was recognized by the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation as “Emerging Leader for 2003.”

Gillum's career continued to climb, with him getting elected to serve as mayor of the state’s capital city in 2014. Four years later, he shocked many Democrats with his stunning upset of Gwen Graham in the party's gubernatorial primary.

Fast forward to June 2022. Gillum appeared in a federal courtroom in handcuffs after he was indicted on fraud charges stemming from an alleged scheme in which he’s accused of pocketing campaign contributions, essentially paying himself to run for office. He pleaded not guilty to all charges and surrendered his passport. Gillum was released without having to post bail. He walked swiftly past reporters after exiting the courthouse without comment.

“I, I, I,” “Do you have any comments? “I don’t. Thank you.”

Gillum ended up losing to Governor Ron DeSantis by less than half a percentage point. At the time, he was widely beloved among supporters and promised that he would continue championing the causes for which he campaigned, including public education and tackling climate change. During his concession speech, the adoration of his supporters was on display.

“I sincerely regret that I couldn’t bring it home for you," he said in front of a crowd of supporters cheering "We love you."

"But I can guarantee you this – I’m not going anywhere.”

During Gillum’s campaign for governor, the Tampa Bay Times broke a story that Gillum was under FBI Investigation after he accepted a ticket to see the Broadway play Hamilton from an undercover agent. Gillum’s lawyer at the time Barry Richard claimed that the ticket came from Gillum’s brother.

“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. Adam Corey and Andrew and his brother have been friends since college.”

Gillum never made his promised comeback. In March of 2020, the former rising Democratic star was found on the floor of a Miami hotel with a person who had a drug overdose. Gillum said he never did drugs, but did drink, and later checked himself into rehab. An effort to start a voter registration group fizzled, and later that year, Gillum publicly came out as bisexual in an interview with Tamron Hall.

He has remained largely silent, until recently, when the indictment hit.

Part of that indictment focuses on that trip to New York six years ago. According to the charging document, Gillum got the tickets to see the play “Hamilton” from undercover FBI agents who were posing as representatives of a local developer. Gillum is accused of lying to the F-B-I about the tickets and other gifts that he received from them, including a hotel room, meals and a boat tour of the New York Harbor. He’s also accused of keeping campaign contributions for personal use. If found guilty on all charges, he could face up to 45 years in prison. His trial is scheduled for August.

Valerie Crowder hosts and produces state and local newscasts during All Things Considered. Her reporting on local government and politics has received state and regional award recognition. She has also contributed stories to NPR newscasts.