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Andrew Gillum, once nearly elected Governor of Florida, on trial in federal court

By Sarah May
|
April 17, 2023

In what could be the final chapter in a stunning fall from grace, former Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum this week faces the start of a three-week federal trial on corruption charges, as the Miami Herald reports.

Though once considered a rising star in the Democratic Party, Gillum's descent began not long after his narrow 2018 loss to current Gov. Ron DeSantis and his subsequent discovery by police in a hotel room with a man suspected of a drug overdose.

Indictment detailed

In June of last year, a federal grand jury handed down a 21-count indictment against Gillum, now 43, and Sharon Janet Lettman-Hicks, his mentor and political advisor.

The pair is alleged to have conspired to commit wire fraud by illegally soliciting and securing campaign funds from individuals and entities by making false promises and representations that the money was going to legitimate purposes and causes.

Further, Gillum and Lettman-Hicks stand accused of using third parties as conduits for some of the funds so that they could be channeled to a company Lettman-Hicks owned.

Lettman-Hicks, in turn, would direct those funds to Gillum – allegedly to the total tune of roughly $57,000 – for personal use by disguising them as payroll disbursements, and as a result of the scheme, both were initially charged with 19 counts of wire fraud, and the latter was also charged with making false statements to the FBI.

Innocence claimed

Gillum, who also once served as the mayor of Tallahassee, has denied any wrongdoing ever since the indictment was issued.

Last summer, in response to the charges, Gillum declared, as the New York Post noted at the time, “Every campaign I've run has been done with integrity. Make no mistake that this case is not legal, it is political.”

“Throughout my career I have always stood up for the people of Florida and have spoken truth to power. “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,” Gillum added.

Despite the fact that, as the Miami Herald noted, the corruption probe that ensnared Gillum has already yielded to other convictions, David Markus, an attorney for the beleaguered former politician evinces a similar confidence, saying this week ahead of the trial, “This is our chance to show Andrew's innocence, and we're looking forward to it.”

Superseding indictment emerges

In a surprise twist prior to the commencement of trial, a federal grand jury last week issued a superseding indictment in Gillum's case, according to the Tallahassee Democrat.

As a result of the curious development, Gillum now faces two fewer wire fraud counts than were included in the initial indictment, with the total of all counts currently standing at 19.

Attorneys for Gillum slammed the move, saying, “The prosecution has been investigating this case for over six years and on the eve of trial, they just realized that their indictment had a huge problem. Their frantic attempt to fix it at the 11th hour isn't going to work. We are looking forward to showing Andrew's innocence at trial.”

In response to those criticisms, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Milligan said simply, “We had our reasons for doing that.”

Scandalous decline

Gillum's corruption trial is just the latest episode in what has been a dramatic – and very public – downfall, which gained steam as a result of the aforementioned incident in a Miami Beach hotel room.

As the New York Post noted back in 2020, Gillum ultimately found himself in rehab for alcohol addiction and under a cloud of suspicion given the significant quantity of illegal drugs that were also found in the room where another man appeared to have overdosed.

Looking back on the events, Gillum declared of his personal struggles, “My stuff had to be public and cause great embarrassment and rumors, some false, some true, the shame that I felt from all of that...was tearing me up. I needed real help to try to unpack that.”

The burdens faced by the former Democrat darling may now be poised to increase by a considerable degree, given that if his trial results in conviction, he faces a possible sentence of 20 years on each wire fraud count and a term of five years on the false statements charge.