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Attorneys in the Andrew Gillum trial give opening statements

Former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum leaves the U.S. Courthouse in Tallahassee on Wednesday, June 22, 2022 after he was released until his trial on charges of fraud and lying to the FBI.
Lydell Rawls
Former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum leaves the U.S. Courthouse in Tallahassee on Wednesday, June 22, 2022 after he was released until his trial on charges of fraud and lying to the FBI.

Attorneys in the corruption trial against former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum on Tuesday gave jurors a roadmap of what they plan to cover over the next few weeks.

“This case is not about politics,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Milligan told the jury. "Whether you think he was the worst mayor ever or the best mayor ever doesn't matter."

It’s about “deceiving” donors "all to keep the checks flowing," he said.

Gillum is facing federal charges of lying to the FBI and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. His business associate Sharon Lettman-Hicks is facing charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. They were first indicted by a federal grand jury last summer. The indictment was recently updated and now includes 19 counts, which is fewer than before.

The defense offered jurors a different take on how political contributions to Gillum's gubernatorial campaign helped pay his salary and bonuses at P&P Communications, which was owned by Lettman-Hicks.

Defense attorneys say Gillum's status as a "rising star in politics" helped attract clients to P&P, while the prosecution is portraying the company as a shield used to covertly transfer political contributions into the personal accounts of Gillum and Lettman-Hicks.

"Nothing wrong with Andrew working for P&P," Gillum's defense attorney Anita Moss told the jurors. Lettman-Hicks had been involved in Gillum's political career since he was in college and her firm owned the Gillum brand, Moss explained. "That's why they paid him."

Gillum's loss of salary provided motive to defraud, prosecutors say

Prosecutors say they believe Gillum’s motive was to recover the $120,000 salary he lost after leaving his job at People for the American Way to run for governor.

Milligan says Gillum's financial situation “wasn’t ideal at this point."

He told jurors the prosecution will provide evidence that Gillum and Lettman-Hicks communicated on the days that each transaction took place, but they don't have the "substance" of those conversations.

Milligan told the jurors they would see "emails, texts bank transactions," which require electronic wire communication.

Defense says Gillum's P&P Communications salary was legitimate

Gillum's attorneys showed jurors a slide show presentation that started with a headshot of the former mayor alongside a family photo, with the words “Andrew Gillum is not guilty” printed across the top.

“This case is about what happens when you put a target on someone’s back,” Moss explained to jurors.

“Andrew Gillum is innocent,” she said. “That’s why he has chosen to go to trial.”

Gillum's attorneys say he didn't know where the money that paid his salary originated. "Because he didn't know, the law says he's not guilty," Moss said.

Lettman-Hicks' defense attorney Mutaqee Akbar told jurors that her salary payments from P&P were also legitimate. Akbar described one instance in which Lettman-Hicks was paid by the Gillum campaign to help get out the vote leading up to the Democratic primary election.

"Eight weeks before the primary," Akbar began, Gillum was "behind in polls," and "money was not coming in."

Sharon Lettman-Hicks worked to get him elected in the primary, Akbar said. That's why the Gillum campaign paid P&P Communications $130,000, Akbar said, adding that some of the money was used to pay campaign workers $15 an hour.

"This case is about the government's failure to seek the truth, even when the truth was right in front of their face," Akbar told jurors. Akbar explained over the course of the trial they'll see a lot of "breadcrumbs" — emails, text messages, recordings, financial records — that ultimately "lead to the truth."

"They don't lead you to a conspiracy," he said.

Jury hears testimony from undercover agent "Mike Miller"

"Mike Miller" testified on Tuesday that he was first asked to go undercover in the Gillum investigation in 2015. Posing as a developer, he worked to establish a relationship with Gillum over the course of a year and attempted to bribe him twice.

"The goal was to build that relationship" in an effort "to see if there was anything confirming or denying that activity," Miller said, referring to the FBI's suspicions that Gillum was involved in local public corruption.

Gillum's attorney Anita Moss described the defense's view on the FBI's undercover investigation. "They spent months cozying up to Andrew Gillum."

"The FBI tried to get him to give them preferential treatment in exchange for money," Moss said. "The FBI tried to get him to do corrupt things."

The defense displayed on the screen Gillum's response to agents when they asked him to exchange preferential treatment for a $100,000 political contribution in early 2017.

"I need you to in your minds eye disassociate that," Gillum told the undercover agents posing as developers. "It's a requirement that you do."

Prosecutors plan to review evidence of Gillum's brother Marcus Gillum telling undercover agents that a quid pro quo arrangement with Andrew Gillum wouldn't be a problem.

"Marcus Gillum is not Andrew Gillum," Moss said, adding that the recordings show that the former mayor "will not take a bribe."

Valerie Crowder is a freelance journalist based in Tallahassee, Fl. She's the former ATC host/government reporter for WFSU News. Her reporting on local government and politics has received state and regional award recognition. She has also contributed stories to NPR newscasts.