- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
The lawyer for Andrew Gillum has asked that he be tried separately from his co-defendant, Sharon Lettman-Hicks, so that she can testify in his defense – a move he said is “key” to his acquittal.
David Markus, a Miami lawyer representing Gillum, filed a motion to sever the two defendants on Monday, days after attorneys for Lettman-Hicks made a similar request for different reasons. The motions are pending before U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor.
Markus wrote that if Gillum and Lettman-Hicks are tried together, she may invoke her Fifth Amendment rights and opt not to testify. If they are tried apart, she would be available to testify on his behalf during his trial, even if she decided not to testify at her own.
“Sharon’s testimony would directly contradict the government’s theory that there was some type of agreement between Andrew and Sharon to defraud people, and it would directly contradict the government’s claim that Andrew Gillum acted in bad faith and had criminal intent,” Markus wrote. “Sharon is alleged to be the only other person in the alleged conspiracy. Thus, her knowledge and testimony on these matters (are) pivotal to Gillum’s defense.”
Gillum and Lettman-Hicks were indicted by a federal grand jury in June on charges they illegally solicited donations to his 2018 campaign for Florida governor and siphoned off some of the proceeds for themselves. Both were charged with one count of conspiracy and 19 counts of wire fraud, with Gillum facing an additional charge of lying to the government.
Federal prosecutors allege that Gillum and Lettman-Hicks diverted contributions from several organizations and at least one big donor, with the money flowing to Lettman-Hicks’ public-relations firm, P&P Communications. In turn, some of that money allegedly went to Gillum in the form of payroll deposits.
According to the indictment, the contributions were supposed to help fund his gubernatorial race, his Campaign to Defend Local Solutions, which fought state preemption, and get-out-the-vote efforts. Some of the money allegedly went to the National Black Justice Coalition, where Lettman-Hicks served as executive director, and eventually P&P Communications.
Torn from the Andrew Gillum indictment: Five key takeaways from the federal corruption case
Lettman-Hicks provided a sworn affidavit dated Oct. 14, the same day she filed a motion asking to sever her case from his, that noted their long friendship and downplayed his role in campaign finances.
She wrote that she helped him get a job with the progressive People for the American Way in 2002 and successfully managed his first City Commission race in 2003. Later, when he launched his bid for governor, she gave him a job as a vice president at P&P.
“During my experience working with Andrew Gillum at P&P and while assisting him with his campaign for governor, at the Campaign to Defend Local Solutions and the Get out the Vote campaign, he relied on others to handle the financial details, including the fiscal sponsorship of the CDLS, campaign managers, administrators, strategists and finance managers/directors,” she wrote.
Lettman-Hicks also said in the affidavit that she “can explain” why payments from P&P to Gillum were “legitimate” and that he had “no reason to believe” the payments were unlawfully made.
Markus wrote that Lettman-Hicks’ testimony is “crucial” to the defense of Gillum, who served on the City Commission for 15 years, including one term as mayor.
“If the jury believes her, the jury will likely acquit Gillum” of conspiracy and wire fraud charges, he wrote. “If Andrew Gillum had no reason to believe that the payments were unlawfully or fraudulently made, he could not have entered into an alleged conspiracy to obtain these funds.”
Gillum and Lettman-Hicks were arrested as part of the FBI’s “Operation Capital Currency,” an undercover operation that began in 2015 with the arrival of agents posing as wealthy out-of-town developers. The probe led to convictions on federal bribery charges against former City Commissioner and Mayor Scott Maddox, his aide Paige Carter-Smith and businessman John “J.T.” Burnette.
Tallahassee attorneys Mutaqee Akbar and Robert Alex Morris, in their motion to sever , wrote that Lettman-Hicks had no involvement with the agents, who got close to Gillum, Maddox and others, or their fictitious firm, Southern Pines Development.
Gillum met with undercover agents in 2016 in New York for outings that included a performance of “Hamilton” and a boat ride to the Statue of Liberty. Federal prosecutors allege that the agents sprang for the outings and that Gillum later lied about it in an interview with the FBI.
Her lawyers argued that trying her with Gillum would be unfair because their case contends he lied to agents and “that since Ms. Lettman-Hicks is involved with this alleged liar, she must be lying also.” Their motion made no mention of her testifying on Gillum's behalf.
Gillum’s motion noted that the two met in 2001 when both were protesting then-Gov. Jeb Bush’s move to end affirmative action. She quickly became his mentor.
“Over the years they developed a close friendship,” Markus wrote. “Andrew and his wife are godparents to Sharon’s eight-year-old son, and Andrew officiated Sharon’s wedding. Given this longstanding relationship ... Sharon’s willingness to testify is clear.”
Contact Jeff Burlew at email@example.com or follow @JeffBurlew on Twitter.
Never miss a story: Subscribe to the Tallahassee Democrat using the link at the top of the page.
This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Former Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum seeks separate trial in fraud case