By Dara Kam, The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — A jury on Monday continued to deliberate on public-corruption allegations against former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum, asking a federal judge questions as they pondered the fate of the onetime rising political star.
Gillum, who also served as Tallahassee mayor, faces charges of lying to federal investigators, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and committing wire fraud. The charges are related to activities between 2016 and 2019, as Gillum’s national political stature blossomed.
A federal indictment issued last year accused Gillum and his longtime political mentor, Sharon Lettman-Hicks, of illegally using political contributions to pay Gillum.
The jury on Monday sent questions to U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor, including a query about a count in the indictment against Gillum that accused him of making false statements to federal investigators.
Gathered in the courtroom while the jurors met behind closed doors, Winsor told lawyers that the jury asked whether they needed to find guilt “as to both” of the false-statement allegations.
“The answer is they do not have to find both,” Winsor said, pointing to instructions given to the jury Friday after two weeks of arguments and testimony. The instructions said the jury “must unanimously agree” that at least one statement is false “beyond a reasonable doubt” to find Gillum guilty of that count.
The count alleged Gillum made “false, fictitious, and fraudulent” statements to FBI agents when they questioned him at a ribbon-cutting ceremony in a downtown park in 2017. The accusations are related to Gillum’s denial that he took gifts from undercover agents posing as developers during a trip to New York and his assertions about the time he stopped communicating with the undercover agents.
Gillum has steadfastly maintained his innocence.
Also Monday, jurors asked for a “hard copy” or a table of contents of exhibits used in the trial. Winsor told the jury the court did not have such a list.
Gillum, his wife R. Jai, and other family members came in and out of the courthouse throughout the day Monday. A handful of reporters, photographers, courtroom illustrators and allies of the accused pair also spent much of the day awaiting court action.
The jury went home about 5 p.m. and is scheduled to resume deliberations Tuesday morning.
The charges stem from payments Gillum received after stepping down from his job at the liberal-advocacy group People for the American Way, where he earned $122,500, in addition to his roughly $70,000 annual salary as mayor.
Allegations of wrongdoing center on contributions from a handful of non-profit organizations to P&P Communications, a company controlled by Lettman-Hicks. An indictment issued last year by a grand jury accused Lettman-Hicks of illegally steering campaign-related funds to Gillum for his personal use.
After launching his bid for governor and leaving the People for the American Way job in 2017, Gillum began receiving regular payments from P&P. Federal prosecutors filed a “superseding” indictment last month that dropped two of the initial charges against Gillum and Lettman-Hicks.
The indictment accused the defendants of having “engaged in an ongoing and evolving scheme to defraud by unlawfully soliciting and obtaining funds from various entities and individuals through false and fraudulent representations and promises that the funds would be used for a legitimate purpose, but instead using third parties to divert a portion of those funds to P&P, which Lettman-Hicks then fraudulently provided to Gillum for his personal use disguised as payroll payments.”
Gillum’s lawyers have argued, in part, that he was targeted because he was a Black candidate for governor and that he repeatedly refused to accept bribes offered by the undercover agents posing as developers.
The charges against Gillum came after a lengthy FBI probe also snared Scott Maddox, a former Tallahassee city commissioner and former Florida Democratic Party chairman. Maddox pleaded guilty in 2019 and is serving time in federal prison.