MIAMI — Andrew Gillum, the Democrat who lost the 2018 Florida governor’s race to Ron DeSantis, surrendered to federal authorities in Tallahassee on Wednesday after he and a close associate were charged with conspiracy and 19 counts of fraud over how they raised and used funds when he was mayor of Tallahassee and a candidate for governor.
Mr. Gillum, 42, was also charged with making false statements to the FBI
He pleaded not guilty in a court appearance on Wednesday afternoon. Mr. Gillum, dressed in a navy suit with a dark tie and face mask, was cuffed around his wrists and ankles, with a chain around his waist. Inside the courtroom were some of his friends and a gaggle of news reporters. He left the courthouse after his release from him and gave no comment to the cameras and microphones waiting outside.
The arrest is the latest detour from Mr. Gillum’s eleven-ascendant career. He came within 32,000 votes of the governorship — which would have made him Florida’s first Black governor and a future White House hopeful — only to lose his political direction and face personal struggles. In 2020, the police found him in a Miami Beach hotel room where another man was suffering from a possible drug overdose.
The charges appear to stem from a federal investigation into Tallahassee City Hall that began in 2015 and involved undercover FBI agents posing as developers. Revelations from the investigation, including that Mr. Gillum had socialized with the undercover agents in New York, where they took a boat ride to the Statue of Liberty and saw the hit Broadway musical “Hamilton,” were an issue in the 2018 campaign. Mr. DeSantis, a Republican, said at the time that Mr. Gillum could not be trusted to run the state.
Mr. Gillum, who did not disclose the gifts at the time as required by state law, paid a $5,000 Florida ethics fine in 2019.
The 21-count indictment against Mr. Gillum shows that a grand jury filed the charges against him on June 7. Also charged was Sharon Lettman-Hicks, 53, a confidante of Mr. Gillum’s since he was in college. According to the indictment, she used her communications company de ella to disguise fraudulent payments to Mr. Gillum as part of her payroll de ella.
In a statement, Mr. Gillum said he had run all of his political campaigns “with integrity.”
“Make no mistake that this case is not legal, it is political,” he said. “There’s been a target on my back ever since I was the mayor of Tallahassee. They found nothing then, and I have full confidence that my legal team will prove my innocence now.”
Ms. Lettman-Hicks, who is running as a Democrat for a State House seat in Tallahassee, was in a wheelchair when she appeared in court on Wednesday and pleaded not guilty. She declined to comment.
The indictment covers events involving Mr. Gillum and Ms. Lettman-Hicks from 2016 to 2019. The false statements charge against Mr. Gillum is related to his interactions with the undercover agents.
According to the indictment, beginning in 2016, Mr. Gillum and two unnamed associates solicited campaign contributions from the undercover agents for Mr. Gillum’s newly formed Forward Florida political action committee. To keep the agents’ names private, the associates promised to funnel the contributions in other ways, including through Ms. Lettman-Hicks’s company, P&P Communications. In exchange, they were promised “unencumbered government contracts,” according to one of the unnamed associates.
Mr. Gillum told one of the undercover agents that he “should separate in his mind the campaign contributions and the Tallahassee projects,” the indictment says, adding that Mr. Gillum also “indicated he looked favorably on” the undercover agent’s proposed development projects.
The indictment says that when Mr. Gillum voluntarily spoke to FBI agents in 2017, he “falsely represented” that the undercover agents posing as developers never offered him anything and that he had stopped communicating with them after they tried to link their contributions to support for potential Tallahassee projects.
The fraud and conspiracy charges are related to Mr. Gillum’s dealings with Ms. Lettman-Hicks with regards to P&P Communications and Mr. Gillum’s campaign.
In 2017, when he became a candidate for governor, Mr. Gillum resigned from his position with People for the American Way, a liberal advocacy group whose Tallahassee office was leased from Ms. Lettman-Hicks. Mr. Gillum lost his annual $122,500 salary, and Ms. Lettman-Hicks lost $3,000 in monthly rent. Mr. Gillum was also paid about $70,500 a year as a senior, a position he held from 2014 to 2018.
Mr. Gillum then became an employee of P&P Communications, where he was given a monthly salary of $10,000. According to the indictment, hiring Mr. Gillum was “only a cover used to provide him funds that he lost” after his resignation from People for the American Way.
When Mr. Gillum and Ms. Lettman-Hicks requested $50,000 in grant funding from two unnamed organizations, the money was intended to be used for the Campaign to Defend Local Solutions, an effort by Mr. Gillum to fight state efforts to pre-empt local governments’ power. Instead, according to the indictment, that money ultimately went to P&P Communications to pay Mr. Gillum.
In 2018, the indictment says, Mr. Gillum and Ms. Lettman-Hicks defrauded an unnamed campaign donor who had given $250,000 intended for Mr. Gillum’s campaign. Instead, $150,000 of that was diverted to Mr. Gillum’s political action committee and to P&P Communications.
According to the indictment, in November 2018, $130,000 from the campaign was supposed to go to “get out the vote” efforts. Instead, $60,000 went to P&P Communications and was used in part to pay Mr. Gillum $20,000 in “bonus” payments from Nov. 20 to 29, 2018.
Eventually, it was listed falsely in Mr. Gillum’s campaign finance report as a reimbursement for “Get Out the Vote Canvassing.”
Alexandra Glorious contributed reporting from Tallahassee.