Politics

Panel Finds ‘Probable Cause’ in Ethics Complaint That Gillum Accepted Gifts

Andrew Gillum
Andrew Gillum / Getty Images

The Florida Commission on Ethics will issue a determination of "probable cause" that former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum violated state ethics laws by accepting gifts from lobbyists.

The commission will formally announce the finding next week and forward the case to an administrative law judge for a hearing within 45-60 days, Gillum’s attorney, Barry Richard, told reporters Friday after a closed-door commission meetring on an ethics complaint filed against Gillum by Tallahassee businessman Erwin Jackson.

The complaint raises questions about how Gillum paid in 2016 for a ticket to the hit musical "Hamilton," a boat ride in New York City and a Costa Rica vacation. Florida public officials are prohibited from accepting gifts of $100 or more from lobbyists and others.

"The month of January is not going to be good for Andrew Gillum," Jackson told reporters Friday after the hearing. "Locally, hopefully, the word is getting out, we expect our local officials to act ethically and honestly, and represent the public instead of themselves."

The commission’s "probable cause" determination does little to separate Gillum from an FBI criminal investigation corruption in the city’s community redevelopment agency (CRA).

In December, the FBI indicted former Tallahassee City Commissioner Scott Maddox and former Downtown Improvement Authority Executive Director Paige Carter-Smith on 44 counts each, including bank fraud, extortion, making false statements to federal officers and filing false tax returns.

No charges were filed against Gillum, but the probe dogged the progressive Democrat’s campaign in a gubernatorial race he lost to conservative Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis by 32,000 votes.

The investigation gained national prominence a week before the Nov. 8 election when President Donald Trump tweeted Gillum was a "thief" who oversees one of the country's "most corrupt cities."

The FBI and state probes involve 2016 trips Gillum took to Costa Rica and New York City with lobbyists and FBI agents posing as "businessmen" who came to Tallahassee in 2015 allegedly to invest in projects managed by the city’s community redevelopment agency (CRA).

Among those they engaged was lobbyist Adam Corey, a college friend of Gillum’s who briefly served as treasurer of his 2014 mayoral run.

The agents wanted Corey to persuade the city to expand the CRA to include a parcel of land they allegedly wanted to develop. Later that year, the city commission voted unanimously to expand the CRA’s jurisdiction.

Gillum, Corey and the "businessmen" met in New York in April 2016 during a trip Gillum took on behalf of People for the American Way Foundation.

In an email inviting Gillum to meet him and the agent in New York, Corey noted "Mike Miller" had purchased hotel rooms, Mets tickets and a private charter boat to the Statue of Liberty. The two other agents joined Gillum, Corey and Gillum’s brother, Marcus, for the boat ride.

Gillum’s campaign told the New York Times the last night in New York, his hotel room was paid for by his brother, who also purchased tickets to see the musical ‘Hamilton.’

In addition, one of the agents – "Mike Miller" – met with Corey, Gillum and Gillum’s wife while all were on vacation in Costa Rica in May 2016. Gillum maintains city business not was discussed and he paid in cash for the trip.

Receipts released by Gillum from his New York and Costa Rica trips include a bill for a two-night stay at the Mauritania Hotel in Manhattan with payment made to the Open Society Foundation, a George Soros organization, and a $400 cash withdrawal that covered his Costa Rica lodging.

The documents provided by Corey’s attorneys show Gillum paid airfare to Costa Rica, but on the invoice from Corey’s office that paid for the villa they stayed at, Gillum’s and his wife’s names were crossed out and "Hold on billing" written next to the amount.

Corey said he paid for the villa and was never compensated. Gillum says he paid in cash and has a receipt.

The documents from Corey’s attorneys included an email exchange between Corey and Gillum, when they were in New York with the "businessmen," regarding tickets to ‘Hamilton.’

"Mike Miller and the crew have tickets for us for Hamilton tonight at 8 p.m. courtesy of Mike Miller and the crew," Corey emailed.

Gillum replied, "Awesome news."

That exchange is a prima point in Jackson’s state ethics complaint which, he maintains, proves Gillum accepted a gift worth more than $100.

Gillum was not at Friday’s closed hearing before the commission and had not responded by late afternoon. Richard said it is important to note the commission is looking at Gillum inadvertently receiving gifts, not intentionally soliciting them.

"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," he said. "There is no suggestion he took a payment he wasn’t entitled to, that he voted for somebody for something."

In statements and interviews, such as a Q&A roundtable with editors around the state, Gillum admitted he may have inadvertently violated state ethics rules. "You won’t find me making that kind of mistake again," he said, vowing to be more careful about who he trusts in the future.