By Jim Turner, The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — State ethics officials have found probable cause that former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who narrowly lost the governor’s race last year and continues to draw national political attention, violated Florida ethics laws by accepting gifts from lobbyists.
The Florida Commission on Ethics isn’t expected to announce the findings until next week. However, Gillum’s attorney, Barry Richard, and Erwin Jackson, a Tallahassee businessman who filed the complaint, said after a closed-door meeting Friday that the commission was unanimous in support of its staff’s findings and that the case is now headed to a hearing before an administrative law judge.
“The month of January is not going to be good for Andrew Gillum,” said Jackson, who hopes the commission’s findings will be followed by criminal charges against the former Democratic mayor.
“Locally, hopefully, the word is getting out, we expect our local officials to act ethically and honestly, and represent the public instead of themselves,” Jackson said.
Richard said the findings were based on Gillum receiving gifts, not that he solicited anything.
“The (commission’s) advocate says that (Gillum) was hanging out with these people who were lobbyists and had an interest,” Richard said. “But there is no evidence in this case, and there is no allegations that he ever did anything for anybody, as a quid pro quo for receiving a gift. There is no suggestion he took a payment he wasn’t entitled to, that he voted for somebody for something.”
Richard said the hearing before an administrative law judge could be held in 45 to 60 days.
Gillum did not attend Friday’s ethics commission meeting.
The ethics complaint added to questions that dogged Gillum throughout his gubernatorial campaign about possible ties to an FBI investigation of Tallahassee City Hall.
In December, former Tallahassee City Commissioner Scott Maddox and a close associate, political consultant Paige Carter-Smith, were indicted on 44 counts, including bank fraud, extortion, making false statements to federal officers and filing false tax returns.
No charges have been filed against Gillum, but Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis used the FBI investigation to slam the ethics and honesty of Gillum during the campaign. DeSantis ultimately won the race and was sworn into office Jan. 8.
DeSantis’ allegations were aided during the campaign by the release of documents related to the ethics investigation. The documents raised questions about how Gillum paid in 2016 for a pricey ticket to the hit musical “Hamilton,” a boat ride in New York City and a Costa Rica vacation.
Public officials in Florida are prohibited from accepting gifts of $100 or more from lobbyists and others that work with the government.
The attacks on Gillum reached the White House, where just over a week before the election President Donald Trump tweeted that Gillum was a “thief” who oversees one of the country’s “most corrupt cities.”
On Thursday, DeSantis downplayed Gillum’s situation.
“At the end of the day, he was a tough competitor,” DeSantis said. “I think he’s a talented guy. I don’t wish anything ill for him.”
DeSantis acknowledged he didn’t know all the facts of the ethics complaint after noting he had “opined a time or two during the campaign on some of the issues.”