Marc Elias is a glutton for punishment.
Fresh off a string of embarrassing defeats in court, the Democrat superlawyer revealed Wednesday that he is representing Andrew Gillum, the Democratic Florida gubernatorial nominee who lost to Gov. Ron DeSantis (R.) in 2018. Gillum faces a 21-count indictment for conspiracy, fraud, and making false statements, supported by detailed financial records and testimony from undercover agents.
Gillum withdrew from politics after police found him intoxicated in a hotel room full of drugs.
Like other Democrats Elias represents, Gillum is accused of shameless and long-running corruption. The disgraced ex-pol allegedly siphoned political contributions into his personal accounts, accepted unreported gifts, and worked with donors to conceal top-dollar contributions. Gillum may have defrauded liberal moneyman George Soros of up to $137,000. Nonprofit organizations also number among Gillum’s supposed victims.
Elias is a strange choice for Gillum’s legal team. Unless being friends with the Clintons counts, Elias has little apparent experience with federal criminal defense. Authorities unsealed the indictment on Wednesday, which is supported by reams of bank records and informant testimony.
The indictment generally paints a picture of a political circle built on looting and fraud. In a particularly jarring accusation, prosecutors accused Gillum and a top aide, Sharon Lettman-Hicks, of ransacking Gillum’s gubernatorial campaign for cash after DeSantis won the 2018 race. Gillum and Lettman-Hicks allegedly funneled $60,000 from the campaign to an entity they controlled, "P&P," as "reimbursement" for a fake get-out-the-vote effort. The pair are accused of splitting that money between themselves.
It’s the same tactic the two allegedly deployed against an unnamed donor, who appears to be George Soros. The donor gave $250,000 to Gillum’s campaign, according to the indictment. Soros contributed exactly that sum to Gillum in spring 2018. Lettman-Hicks put $100,000 from that contribution toward Forward Florida, a pro-Gillum super PAC. The remaining funds were directed to P&P and allegedly disbursed to Gillum and Lettman-Hicks.
That accusation is especially awkward for Elias, because Soros is a longtime ally. The reclusive billionaire funded a multi-state challenge to voter ID laws in 2016 which Elias oversaw as general counsel for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. After former president Donald Trump beat Clinton, Elias joined the board of a powerful, Soros-funded super PAC.
Apart from allegedly bilking his own campaign for cash, Gillum is accused of pocketing a portion of $200,000 in contributions he finagled out of two nonprofits. The nonprofits are not named in the indictment. The donations were supposed to support the Gillum-backed Campaign to Defend Local Solutions. Lettman-Hicks is accused of ripping $50,000 from that contribution and paying it out to Gillum as a salary from P&P.
The National Black Justice Coalition acted as fiscal sponsor for the Campaign to Defend Local Solutions.
Other allegations detail alleged favor-trading and attempts to hide massive campaign contributions. Gillum and his aides allegedly talked with undercover federal agents for months about a six-figure donation to Forward Florida, the pro-Gillum PAC. The agents posed as developers interested in purchasing property in the Tallahassee area. The group discussed how they might conceal the source of the donations. And Gillum promised to look favorably on their development proposals, the indictment alleges.
Those same undercover agents hosted Gillum in New York City in 2016, where they provided accommodations, a private boat tour of the city harbor, and tickets to the Broadway musical Hamilton. And on a separate occasion, one of the agents picked up a $4,000 dinner tab for the mayor and his supporters. None of those gifts were disclosed on ethics forms or campaign reports.
The indictment further claims that Gillum lied about his conversations with the undercover agents when questioned by federal authorities.
After losing to DeSantis, Gillum joined CNN as a paid contributor. He is the latest ex-CNN fixture to wind up in a federal courtroom. Anti-Trump lawyer Michael Avenatti, who appeared on the little-watched network over 120 times according to a Fox News tally, is serving a five-year prison sentence for convictions in New York State court and is awaiting sentencing on federal convictions for embezzlement, fraud, and obstructing investigations.
Notwithstanding detailed evidence from financial records and testimony from undercover agents, Elias is sure the government’s indictment is all wrong.
"The government got it wrong today. The evidence in this case is clear and will show that Mr. Gillum is innocent of all charges. We look forward to putting this case to rest and giving Andrew and his family peace of mind once and for all," Elias said in a statement.