On Tuesday, a federal judge dismissed fraud-related charges against former Tallahassee mayor and Florida Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum and a longtime associate, Sharon Lettman-Hicks.
The dismissal, granted by U.S. District Court Judge Allen Winsor, of the Northern District of Florida, came in response to a motion filed by federal prosecutors, who declined to retry the two defendants after a jury failed to convict them on 18 charges of conspiracy to commit fraud and wire fraud.
Prosecutors had alleged that Gillum and Lettman-Hicks concocted a scheme to solicit campaign donations in exchange for political favors, all while skirting campaign finance laws.
On May 4, the jury found Gillum not guilty of a 19th charge of providing false statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Those statements were made in an interview concerning a 2016 trip — paid for by undercover agents posing as real estate developers — that Gillum had taken with his brother to New York, which included a boat tour and tickets to the hit Broadway show Hamilton.
Gillum subsequently paid a $5,000 fine to the state ethics commission to settle allegations surrounding that New York trip and an unrelated trip to Costa Rica.
Florida law requires that all gifts valued at $100 or more, and any gifts from lobbyists, be disclosed on campaign finance reports.
The jury deadlocked on the remaining 18 charges, prompting Winsor to declare a mistrial and cancel a case teleconference meeting scheduled for Wednesday, reports Tallahassee ABC affiliate WTXL.
According to the Tallahassee Democrat, 10 of the 12 jurors overwhelmingly favored acquitting Gillum and Lettman-Hicks. Several jurors later anonymously alleged that the two holdouts who refused to acquit Gillum and Lettman-Hicks were overly “biased” and called the government’s case “beyond flimsy.”
Although prosecutors initially signaled their intent to retry the defendants on the conspiracy and fraud charges, they later asked Winsor to dismiss the indictment, seeming to have concluded that obtaining a conviction would be difficult, particularly in light of the jury’s overwhelming predisposition to vote for acquittal.
The failure to obtain convictions marks a major defeat for the government as part of its Operation Capital Currency investigation, in which undercover FBI agents posed as crooked developers as part of a two-year sting looking into whether city officials were engaged in various pay-to-play schemes. The investigation, which began in 2015, led to prison time for former Mayor and City Commissioner Scott Maddox and his aide, Paige Carter-Smith, who pled guilty to the charges against them in 2019; and a guilty verdict against their co-defendant, developer John “J.T.” Burnette in 2021.
When he was first indicted on 21 charges last year, Gillum pleaded not guilty to all counts and asserted that he was being prosecuted for political reasons — despite the fact that the charges were brought the Justice Department under the administration of President Joe Biden, a fellow Democrat.
Gillum’s lawyers took a victory lap following the dismissal of charges.
“Andrew Gillum had the courage to stand up and say ‘I am innocent,'” Gillum’s attorneys, David Oscar Markus, Margot Moss, and Katie Miller, said in a statement. “And that is finally being recognized. We want to thank the hard-working jury who did their job and explained to the government why it should drop the case. Andrew has endured a lot over the past few years and now can resume his life and public service.”
According to Politico, Gillum was asked by a reporter when he would appear on the ballot as a political candidate again. He replied: “Oh, get out of here.”
The National Black Justice Coalition, which Lettman-Hicks had formerly led as the organization’s executive director and CEO from 2009 to 2017 before becoming its board chair, celebrated the dismissal of charges, pointing to juror’s assertions that the case against her was weak.
“From the beginning, NBJC was completely confident that the evidence in the case would prove Sharon Lettman-Hicks to be innocent of all charges,” David Johns, the current executive director and CEO, said in a statement. “We are glad that federal prosecutors have recognized that these charges were never legitimate — and have moved to dismiss the indictment against her. We are deeply concerned about the political motivations behind the prosecutors who leveled these false charges and the abuse of power they showed in this prosecution.
“For decades, Sharon has been a force for justice, doing the work to lift up the needs and narrative of the Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer+ and same-gender-loving community. We are concerned that Sharon, and NBJC, were targeted specifically for this work,” Johns added.
He also criticized the news media for reporting cavalierly on the indictment, which ultimately led to financial harm for NBJC.
“That so many journalists and news outlets covered the story without compassion or consideration for the decades of service Sharon has engaged in, or with regard for the work of the National Black Justice Coalition, which was named in open court and experienced a decrease in funding and support while experiencing an increase in attacks from white supremacists and those who enable them confounds and saddens me,” Johns said in a statement. “Everyone who suggested she and our organization were guilty simply as a result of the federal government’s baseless accusation owes us the same energy when telling the complete story, which should end with repair for the harms caused.”
He added: “With extremist politicians now openly attacking Black and LGBTQ communities and legislators in a bit to suppress democracy, and with the rights of Black and Black LGBTQ+/same-gender-loving people under attack across the country, this work — the work that National Black Justice Coalition does — is more important than ever.”
Gillum, once a rising star in the Democratic Party, came 32,463 votes short of then-Congressman Ron DeSantis in the 2018 Florida gubernatorial election. During that election, DeSantis attacked Gillum over ongoing investigations into corruption in Tallahassee government stemming from Operation Capital Currency, even though the former mayor wouldn’t be charged until four years later.
Following his loss, Gillum had sought to use his star power to better organize Democrats across Florida, in the hope of engaging them on local political issues and encouraging them to register to vote — echoing the more successful moves made by former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams following her 2018 loss to Gov. Brian Kemp, which have since been credited for laying the groundwork for Democratic victories in that state’s U.S. Senate races in 2020 and 2022.
But Gillum soon fell from the public’s good graces and removed himself from the political sphere in March 2020, after police found him, inebriated and unable to talk coherently, in a Miami Beach hotel room with two men, including a 30-year-old gay escort who had allegedly overdosed on crystal meth during what is believed to have been a sex party. The escort survived, and police eventually decided not to bring any charges against Gillum related to the hotel room overdose.
Gillum then entered a rehabilitation program for alcohol addiction and withdrew from public life, asking for privacy for himself and his family.
After completing the rehab program, Gillum later came out as bisexual in an interview with journalist Tamron Hall as part of her self-titled talk show. During that interview, he disclosed details about his struggles with alcohol addiction, the depression he experienced after losing the governor’s race, and the anxiety he felt about revealing his bisexuality — which his wife, R. Jai, had known about and accepted prior to their marriage — publicly following the incident in the hotel.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly characterized some of the content of Gillum’s interview with Tamron Hall. We apologize for the error.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include reaction from the National Black Justice Coalition.
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