Andrew Gillum, DeSantis’s 2018 opponent, charged with wire fraud

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The Justice Department on Wednesday charged Andrew Gillum, Florida’s 2018 Democratic nominee for governor, with conspiracy, wire fraud and making false statements.

The former mayor of Tallahassee faces 19 counts of wire fraud along with Sharon Janet Lettman-Hicks, chief executive of the National Black Justice Coalition, a gay rights organization, according to Jason R. Coody, the US attorney for the Northern District of Florida. The maximum prison term for conspiracy to commit wire fraud is 20 years.

Gillum also was charged with making false statements to FBI agents. The maximum prison term for that charge is five years.

Gillum, who came within a percentage point of winning the 2018 race, denied any wrongdoing in a statement.

“I have spent the last 20 years of my life in public service and continue to fight for the people,” he said. “Every campaign I’ve run has been done with integrity. Make no mistake that this case is not legal, it is political.”

“Throughout my career I have always stood up for the people of Florida and have spoken truth to power,” Gillum added. “There’s been a target on my back ever since I was the mayor of Tallahassee. They found nothing then, and I have full confidence that my legal team will prove my innocence now.”

According to the charges, Gillum and Lettman-Hicks legally solicited and obtained funds from multiple individuals by falsely promising that the money would be used for legitimate purposes. Lettman-Hicks then used a company she owned to disguise some of the fraudulently acquired funds as payroll payments to Gillum, before he used them for personal purposes, prosecutors said.

Gillum’s lawyers — Marc Elias and David Oscar Markus — criticized the charges.

“The government got it wrong today,” they said in a statement. “The evidence in this case is clear and will show that Mr. Gillum is innocent of all charges.”

Political strategist Angela Rye, a close friend of Gillum’s, expressed her frustration with the charges, given what she said was other involvement with unethical activities by other politicians.

“As the country watches live hearings about the terrorist attack on Capitol Hill on January 6, 2021, I am troubled that Merrick Garland’s Department of Justice has yet to charge key co-conspirators as we learn of this meritless indictment,” she told The Washington Post. “Are you sure this DOJ is not still run by Donald J. Trump? Because there are actual threats to democracy waging war on the American people everyday.”

Gillum grabbed national attention in 2018 as he ran to become the first Black governor of Florida, at a time when a federal grand jury was a public corruption investigation in Tallahassee.

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The rising Democratic star had the support of a number of popular figures including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and pop star Rihanna. But he attracted the ire of President Donald Trump and much of the conservative media before ultimately losing the race to Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.).

The Florida Commission on Ethics in 2019 accused him of violating state ethics laws. According to the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper, Gillum accepting the charges by agreeing to $5,000 fine for a gift worth more than $100 from a lobbyist.

Gillum went on to become a CNN political commentator amid talks about a political future that perhaps went beyond Florida.

That all came to a halt in March 2020 when police found him inebriated and unconscious in a South Beach Miami hotel room with two men. (Drugs were found at the scene, though Gillum denies he used illegal substances and was not arrested.) That incident prompted Gillum to seek treatment and generated speculation that the married father of three was gay. Later that year, he became one of the most high profile Black men in politics to come out as bisexual.

“I don’t identify as gay, but I do identify as bisexual,” he told talk show host Tamron Hall in September 2020. “And that is something that I have never shared publicly before.”