Andrew Gillum corruption trial now in jury’s hands
TALLAHASSEE — Andrew Gillum’s fate now rests with seven women and five men in a federal courthouse.
On Friday, prosecutors and defense attorneys gave their closing arguments in the corruption trial for Florida’s 2018 Democratic nominee for governor.
A jury now has the job of sorting through the 19 counts against Gillum in a case that federal prosecutors have said is “complicated” and “circumstantial.”
Both Gillum and his “political godmother,” Sharon Lettman-Hicks, are accused of conspiring to steer campaign contributions into their personal accounts.
Prosecutors have no direct evidence of the scheme, but on Friday they described a pattern of illegal behavior that they said started when Gillum resigned a $120,000-per-year job to run for governor in 2017.
Gillum, who was still earning $70,000 as Tallahassee mayor, then went to work for Lettman-Hicks’ company, P&P Communications. The job was fake, federal prosecutors said, and simply a vehicle for a desperate Gillum to make up his previous salary.
Prosecutors over the last two weeks alleged an enormously complicated web of campaign transactions involving numerous organizations and donors.
A $250,000 campaign contribution from billionaire donor Donald Sussman, for example, was instead sent to a nonprofit. That nonprofit sent $100,000 to the Gillum campaign but was legally restricted from sending any more.
The nonprofit signed a contract with P&P worth $132,000 for social media, direct messaging, town halls and rides to the polls that prosecutors said never happened. Two $10,000 checks were sent to Gillum from P&P.
Gillum’s campaign also paid $60,000 to P&P for get-out-the-vote efforts that prosecutors said never happened. P&P then sent Gillum four $5,000 payments marked “end of year bonus.”
Ultimately, $57,000 illegally made it into Gillum’s bank accounts, according to Gillum’s indictment. The campaign raised about $37 million.
After Gillum lost to GOP nominee Ron DeSantis by a mere 32,000 votes, the campaign was criticized for leaving $3 million unspent.
“We’re not saying the two defendants were trying to rob the campaign blind,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Milligan told jurors.
Donors weren’t upset with the way the money was spent, but that doesn’t matter, Milligan said. The issue is whether P&P actually provided the services to the nonprofit or to the campaign.
“This is a circumstantial evidence case,” Milligan said. “It had to be built piece by piece by piece.”
However, Gillum’s Miami-based attorney, David O. Markus, said prosecutors were leaving out crucial context in order to fit a narrative.
Sussman didn’t want his name attached to the donation. That’s what prompted Gillum’s team to scramble to find a way to disguise the money — a legal method used by all kinds of campaigns.
Markus pointed jurors to evidential exhibits showing that the team only settled on the nonprofit because they couldn’t find any other group to do the job.
If Gillum and Lettman-Hicks wanted to steal money from the campaign, there were easier ways, Markus noted. The campaign was renting space in P&P Communications’ office, for example — the company could have simply raised the rent.
“There were tons of ways to get that money to P&P, if that’s what the goal was,” Markus said.
Gillum’s lawyers repeatedly reiterated that federal prosecutors had no direct evidence tying Gillum to the alleged crimes — and no victims.
“You didn’t see any gun or any smoke,” Markus told jurors. “This case is very simple: there is no proof.”
Gillum is separately accused of lying to FBI agents about his interactions with undercover agents.
The FBI initially descended on Tallahassee to investigate developers and city commissioners in a probe dubbed “Capital Currency.” Undercover agents posing as businesspeople hired Gillum’s friend, Adam Corey, who set up meetings with Gillum.
The “businesspeople” met Gillum in New York City and paid for Gillum to have one night in a hotel, plus a boat ride and a ticket to the hit Broadway show “Hamilton” in 2016.
When agents met Gillum in 2017 to talk about it, Gillum admitted his interactions with agents and the fact they tried to bribe him. When they asked whether the “businesspeople” had given him anything, however, Gillum said “no.”
The FBI’s undercover investigation and the Hamilton ticket leaked during Gillum’s campaign for governor, and Gillum repeatedly lied about it, telling reporters and the state’s ethics commission that his brother gave him the ticket outside the theater.
However, text messages and audio recordings showed that Gillum’s brother didn’t arrive until intermission.
Although Gillum wasn’t charged with lying to Florida’s ethics commission, prosecutors showed evidence from the ethics case, anyway.
“That goes to what’s going on in the man’s mind,” Milligan said.