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Andrew Gillum found not guilty of lying to the FBI, judge declares a mistrial on fraud charges

Former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum exits the courthouse with his wife R. Jai Gillum after a jury found him not guilty of lying to the FBI on Thursday, May, 4, 2023.
Valerie Crowder
/
WFSU News
Former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum exits the courthouse with his wife R. Jai Gillum after a jury found him not guilty of lying to the FBI on Thursday, May, 4, 2023.

Former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum has been cleared of lying to the FBI about a trip to New York where undercover agents purchased tickets to see the play Hamilton for the mayor, his brother and his friend.

"In our system, the powers that be don't always get to decide. Everyday people like you and me sometimes get our swing at the ball, and today the jury took it," Gillum told reporters after his acquittal. "There will be a lot of time for a lot more, God knows. But today all I can muster is gratitude."

After four days of deliberations, jurors found Gillum not guilty of lying to the FBI, but couldn't reach a verdict on 17 counts of wire fraud and one conspiracy charge against Gillum and his longtime associate Sharon Lettman-Hicks.

Gillum was once a rising star in Democratic politics. He nearly defeated Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2018, losing by less than half a percentage point. After his acquittal, he put his conviction and progressive politics on display when speaking to reporters.

“Even as I stand here today in celebration and in gratitude for all the folks I’ve given appreciation to, I’m also reminded of the people who don’t have what we were able to bring to this fight, who are everyday being run over by powers more significant than them and don’t have anybody to stand for them or with them," Gillum said. "This system is in desperate need of real reform."

Evidence shown during trial reveals how undercover agents spent months befriending Gillum and gaining his trust. Then they tried to bribe him. After he refused, they subpoenaed his financial records to look for bribery there, the lead FBI agent on the case Michael Wiederspahn testified in court. They didn’t find any, but those records were used to build a fraud and conspiracy case against Gillum and Lettman-Hicks.

“The facts weren’t there for the government, and we knew that from day one," said Gillum's attorney David Markus. "This case shouldn’t have been brought in the first place.”

They charge of lying to the FBI was based on an interview with agents in Cascades Park in 2017. Two FBI agents asked Gillum about his relationship with the undercover agents, who were posing as businessmen looking to invest in the city, without letting him know that they were working undercover for the FBI. Gillum didn't know he was being recorded by the agents, and they told him he wasn't a suspect.

"For over a year, they tried to get him to take a bribe," Markus said. "And then to just approach him in a park and lie repeatedly."

Gillum told the agents that the businessmen tried to bribe him and he mentioned the trip in New York City, Markus reminded the jurors during closing arguments. "He tells them the truth."

When asked twice whether the undercover agents had given or offered him anything, Gillum said "no." Prosecutors presented evidence in court that showed Gillum was aware that the undercover agents had given him tickets to see Hamilton, a free boat ride and hotel room. There was nothing illegal about Gillum accepting those gifts, and the defense argued that he would've told them about the gifts if they would have asked questions about the trip.

Judge declares mistrial on fraud charges

U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor declared a mistrial on the conspiracy and fraud charges. Prosecutors say at this time they intend to retry the case. They're also free to drop the charges, which is what the defense is hoping will happen.

"We hope that they don’t waste any more taxpayers’ money to go through this again," said Lettman-Hicks' attorney Mutaqee Akbar. "We’re prepared. We’re ready to fight it."

Gillum and Lettman-Hicks are accused of steering campaign contributions and grant funds into Gillum's bank account through Lettman-Hicks' firm P&P Communications. The payments were for Gillum's salary, but prosecutors say they were supposed to pay for other things.

Attorneys for Gillum and Lettman-Hicks say the payments were for legitimate work that was done on Gillum's campaign for governor and to engage the public and elected officials on the issue of preemption, when state or federal laws curtail local authority.

Prosecutors spent several days during the trial showing the jury financial records, contracts, call logs, emails and text messages and interviewing nearly a couple dozen witnesses in an effort to prove three alleged schemes to defraud campaign donors and grantors out of approximately $242,000. But jurors couldn't reach unanimous agreement on whether Gillum and Lettman-Hicks were guilty or not guilty.

"The federal government with all of its resources for nine days couldn’t point to any money that was stolen, anything in her account that was taken, any lavish spending or anything like that," said Lettman-Hicks' attorney Mutaqee Akbar. "It was a targeted attack against Andrew Gillum, obviously."

Tallahassee businesswoman Sharon Lettman-Hicks waves to reporters as she exits the courthouse after the judge declared a mistrial in the charges against her. The jury couldn't reach a verdict on more than a dozen fraud-related charges against her and former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who was found not guilty of lying to the FBI.
Valerie Crowder
/
WFSU News
Tallahassee businesswoman Sharon Lettman-Hicks waves to reporters as she exits the courthouse after the judge declared a mistrial in the charges against her. The jury couldn't reach a verdict on more than a dozen fraud-related charges against her and former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who was found not guilty of lying to the FBI.

Gillum was hired by Lettman-Hicks' firm P&P Communications in February 2017, soon after he resigned from his position at PFAW and declared his candidacy for governor.

Prosecutors say Gillum's motive for the alleged fraud was to recover the roughly $120,000 salary that he lost when he left his job at People for the American Way to campaign for governor.

During closing arguments, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Milligan told jurors that Gillum was "unable to generate those funds" while he was spending all day, every day campaigning for governor and "other sources had to be found.

Prosecutors didn't offer a motive for Lettman-Hicks, but they highlighted her close relationship with Gillum during the trial.

Neither Gillum nor Lettman-Hicks testified during the trial. Gillum's attorneys didn't call any witnesses, and Lettman-Hicks' attorneys called three to the stand.

Jurors spent four days deliberating, with most of that time spent trying to reach a verdict on the fraud and conspiracy charges. They told the judge they were deadlocked on Tuesday. After requesting hard copies of the evidence, highlighters and paperclips and deliberating for a couple more days, they still couldn't agree unanimously on those charges.

“As much justice as possible was served," Lettman-Hicks told reporters as she exited the courthouse on Thursday. "Thank God, Andrew Gillum is not guilty, and the rest you know is just theater.”

This story has been updated.

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.