Andrew Gillum, DeSantis’ opponent in 2018, charged with fraud

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The Department of Justice on Wednesday charged Andrew Gillum, Florida’s Democratic candidate for governor in 2018, with conspiracy, fraud and false statements.

The former mayor of Tallahassee faces 19 cases of fraud along with Sharon Janet Lettman-Hicks, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, a gay rights organization, according to Jason R. Coody, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Florida. The maximum prison sentence for conspiracy to commit wire fraud is 20 years.

Gillum was also charged with making false statements to FBI agents. The maximum prison sentence for this charge is five years.

Gillum, who came within a percentage point of winning the 2018 race, denied any offense in a statement.

“I have spent the last 20 years of my life in public service and continue to fight for the people,” he said. “Every campaign I have run has been carried out with integrity. Do not be mistaken 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 the truth to power,” Gillum added. “There’s been a goal on my back ever since I was mayor of Tallahassee. They found nothing back then and I have full confidence that my legal team will prove my innocence now.”

According to the prosecution, Gillum and Lettman-Hicks illegally requested and obtained funds from several people by falsely promising that the money would be used for legitimate purposes. Lettman-Hicks then used a company she owned to hide some of the fraudulently acquired funds as paychecks to Gillum before using them for personal purposes, prosecutors said.

Gillum’s lawyers – Marc Elias and David Oscar Markus – criticized the charges.

“The government was wrong today,” they said in a statement. “The evidence in this case is clear and will show that Mr. Gillum is innocent in all charges.”

Political strategist Angela Rye, a close friend of Gillum’s, expressed her frustration over the allegations given what she said was other politicians’ involvement in unethical activities.

“While the country is watching live hearings about the terrorist attack on Capitol Hill on January 6, 2021, I am concerned that Merrick Garland’s Department of Justice has not yet charged key accomplices as we hear about this worthless indictment,” she told The Washington Post. “Are you sure this DOJ is not still led by Donald J. Trump? Because there are real threats to democracy that are waging war against the American people every day.”

Gillum caught national attention in 2018 as he ran to become the first black governor in Florida, at a time when a federal grand jury conducted a public corruption investigation in Tallahassee.

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The rising Democratic star had the support of a number of popular figures, including Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) And pop star Rihanna. But he attracted the anger of President Donald Trump and much of the Conservative media before eventually losing the race to Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.).

The Florida Commission on Ethics accused him in 2019 of violating state ethics laws. According to the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper, Gillum subsequently settled the charges by accepting a $ 5,000 fine for receiving a gift worth more than $ 100 from a lobbyist.

Gillum went on to become a CNN political commentator in the midst of negotiations over a political future that might go beyond Florida.

It all came to a standstill in March 2020 when police found him drunk and unconscious in a hotel room in South Beach Miami with two men. (Drugs were found at the scene, though Gillum denies using illegal drugs and was not arrested.) That incident prompted Gillum to seek treatment and created speculation that the married father of three was gay. Later that year, he became one of the most high-profile black men in politics who came out as bisexual.

“I do not identify as gay, but I identify as bisexual,” he told talk show host Tamron Hall in September 2020. “And that’s something I’ve never shared publicly before.”

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