Gillum pleaded not guilty in a brief appearance outside the United States Courthouse in Tallahassee. A trial date has been set for August 16.
A 26-page grand jury indictment unsealed on Wednesday alleges that Gillum and longtime associate Sharon Janet Lettman-Hicks engaged in a years-long plan to turn political donations and grants into personal income . According to a Department of Justice press release, the two obtained funds through “false and fraudulent promises and representations that the funds would be used for legitimate purposes.”
Gillum is also accused of lying to the FBI during a corruption investigation inside Tallahassee City Hall, where Gillum served as mayor, and is accused of promising political favors to those who supported him financially.
Gillum, 42, and Lettman-Hicks, 53, face 21 charges, according to the news release. Making a false statement is punishable by up to five years in prison, while the maximum prison term for wire fraud and conspiracy charges is 20 years each.
In a statement released before the government announced the charges, Gillum declared his innocence and suggested the case against him was political.
“I have spent the last 20 years of my life in public service and I continue to fight for the people,” Gillum said. “Every campaign I have run has been run with integrity. Make no mistake, this case is not legal, it is political. Throughout my career, I have always stood up for the people of Florida and I I spoke truth to power.”
Gillum is a former CNN political commentator.
A joint statement from Marc Elias, a prominent election attorney, and David Oscar Markus, a Miami criminal defense attorney, said, “The government got it wrong today.”
The allegations in the indictment cover Gillum’s rise as mayor of Tallahassee, his campaign for governor and his political work after his defeat. According to the indictment, beginning in 2016, Gillum and Lettman-Hicks repeatedly used entities controlled by either of them to solicit donations that would then be for personal use.
On multiple occasions, money donated to these entities was funneled to a Lettman-Hicks-owned media consulting firm, which she then “fraudulently provided to Gillum for his personal use disguised as payroll payments,” according to the report. ‘indictment.
In one example, Gillum and Lettman-Hicks reportedly directed a $250,000 campaign contribution to a separate 501(c)4 organization “operated by an acquaintance Gillum and Lettman-Hicks could control.” They then attempted to cover up the fraud, including filing fraudulent documents, the indictment says.
“It’s like a Greek tragedy,” said John Morgan, an Orlando litigator who donated to Gillum’s 2018 campaign. “Andrew Gillum single-handedly destroyed the Florida Democratic Party for the foreseeable future. And that’s his legacy.”
Lettman-Hicks is listed as CEO of the National Black Justice Coalition, an LGBTQ advocacy group, and is running for state representative. She has been described as a mentor to Gillum and the two have worked closely together since Gillum first campaigned for Tallahassee city commissioner two decades ago. In 2019, Gillum launched a new company, CJD Group, LLC. Lettman-Hicks was listed on company registration documents filed with the state.
Questions about their working relationship first surfaced during his gubernatorial campaign. Gillum listed Lettman-Hicks’ work on state financial disclosure documents, but declined to describe his role at his company. At the same time, Gillum’s campaign rented office space from Lettman-Hicks’ organization.
After Gillum’s defeat, as he became the face of Florida Democrats and led a new effort to register voters in the state, Lettman-Hicks secured a prominent position in the state’s Democratic Party. . At one point, she was the party’s highest-paid employee that year, according to campaign finance records.
At the time, Lettman-Hicks wrote on Facebook that she was a “pawn used by the oppressor” to take down Gillum.
Gillum for years faced rumors that the FBI was circling his political activity. His gubernatorial campaign was dogged by a sprawling federal investigation into Tallahassee City Hall that found Gillum had accepted Broadway tickets to the musical ‘Hamilton’ and other perks from an agent. FBI undercover posing as a developer. The investigation led to the conviction of a Tallahassee commissioner and two businessmen, but Gillum was never charged. He eventually settled a state ethics investigation by paying a $5,000 fine.
According to the unsealed indictment Wednesday, he lied to federal investigators when questioned about Tallahassee public corruption. Gillum, prosecutors said, falsely told FBI agents that the developer never offered or gave him anything and that he cut off communications with the developer after he attempted to link political contributions to support of potential projects in Tallahassee.
Even amid his legal troubles, Gillum had for some time maintained his new national standing after his defeat. CNN hired him as a political commentator and Harvard University chose him as a guest speaker. He has become a sounding board for 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls eager to win the young black leader’s endorsement.
After his 2020 run-in with South Florida police, Gillum went missing for a while. He announced he would be entering rehab, saying in a statement, “I will be stepping back from all public roles for the foreseeable future.”
Lately, Gillum hosted a podcast in which he interviewed prominent black progressives and thought leaders. He recently posted a discussion with Laphonza Butler, president of abortion rights group EMILY’s List.
CNN’s Evan Perez, Lizzie Jury and Hayley Wilson contributed to this report.