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Jury deliberations continue in Andrew Gillum's corruption trial

 Former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who was also a Democratic candidate for governor, exits the federal courthouse in downtown Tallahassee after the jury broke from deliberations on May 1, 2023.
Valerie Crowder
Former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who was also a Democratic candidate for governor, exits the federal courthouse in downtown Tallahassee after the jury broke from deliberations on May 1, 2023.

A 12-member jury is deliberating whether or not to convict former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum on more than a dozen fraud charges and a charge of lying to the FBI.

Check back for updates.

About an hour before jurors in former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum's corruption trial stopped deliberating for the day yesterday, they asked for two things: Post-it notes and Scotch tape.

Over the last couple of weeks, attorneys presented roughly 200 pieces of evidence, including emails, text message exchanges, audio recordings, tax returns, bank and accounting statements, check images, income and expense reports and phone records. More than 20 witnesses have also testified.

On Monday morning, the jury requested a table of contents for each piece of evidence, but the judge told them none was available.

Gillum is facing one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, 17 counts of wire fraud and one charge of lying to the FBI. His business associate Sharon Lettman-Hicks is on trial with Gillum, facing the same fraud charges. They pleaded not guilty to the charges after they were first indicted last summer.

Wire fraud carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, while lying to the FBI could put someone behind bars for up to five years.

A report from the U.S. Sentencing Commission shows fraud offenders in 2018 were sentenced to two years in prison on average.

Several years ago, Gillum was seen as a rising star in Florida Democratic politics. Running on a progressive platform, he won the party's primary for governor in 2018, even though he was lagging in the polls and had less campaign cash than others in the race. In the November election, Gillum came within less than half a percentage point of defeating Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The charges against Gillum stem from three alleged schemes that prosecutors say he helped carry out during his run for governor in 2017 and 2018. Evidence presented in court over the last couple of weeks shows about $242,000 in campaign contributions and grant funds was transferred into Gillum's bank account in the form of salary payments from P&P Communications, his co-defendant Lettman-Hicks' firm.

Jurors began deliberating after lunchtime on Friday. They deliberated for about eight hours on Monday, and they're scheduled to resume on Tuesday at 9 a.m. The jury must unanimously agree to reach a guilty verdict on any of the charges against Gillum and Lettman-Hicks.

Sometimes juries can't reach a verdict on some or all of the charges in a case. If that were to happen in this case, another trial could take place.

Gillum is charged with lying to the FBI about New York City trip

For about a year, undercover FBI agents posing as representatives for Southern Pines Development tried to get Gillum to accept a bribe. Evidence presented in trial shows Gillum wouldn't agree to exchange votes for campaign donations, but he did accept gifts from the agents during a work trip Gillum took to New York City in 2016. The agents bought tickets to see the broadway musical Hamilton for Gillum, his brother and his friend and took them on a boat ride near the Statue of Liberty. They also paid for meals, drinks and hotel rooms.

During an interview with FBI agents in June 2017, Gillum told them that Southern Pines hadn't offered or given him anything. In a recording played in court, an agent can be heard asking Gillum about gifts or offers from Southern Pines twice. Both times, Gillum said he hadn't received anything from them.

Defense attorneys for Gillum argued that he would've been more careful if he'd known he was being recorded and that he was under investigation.

Prosecutors later showed the jury Gillum's testimony during a state ethics investigation into the gifts he'd received from Southern Pines. During that interview, Gillum knew he was being recorded and had his attorney present. Still, he falsely claimed that his brother Marcus Gillum gave him the Hamilton ticket. Recordings, witness testimony and text messages shown during the trial dispute that narrative and show that Marcus Gillum arrived late to the theater and was handed a ticket by Andrew Gillum, who was aware the tickets came from the undercover agents.

Gillum is also accused to lying to FBI agents about when he stopped communicating with Southern Pines representatives.

The jury needs to find that Gillum made at least one false statement to convict on this charge.

Prosecutors say Gillum and Lettman-Hicks conspired to steal money from campaign donors, grant foundations

According to the prosecution's summary of Gillum's finances in 2017 and 2018, he earned $202,764 from P&P Communications. At that time, he was also serving as mayor and earning a roughly $70,000 salary from that position.

Prosecutors say Gillum and Lettman-Hicks worked together to steal $50,000 designated for the Campaign to Defend Local Solutions (CDLS), $132,000 from wealthy political donor Donald Sussman and $60,000 from Gillum's campaign for governor. Financial summaries put together by the FBI show that there weren't enough funds in P&P's accounts to pay Gillum without the CDLS payments and money from Gillum's campaign.

"Every scheme, Andrew Gillum puts Sharon Lettman-Hicks in charge of the money," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Grogan during the prosecution's closing arguments. "The person who got the money for these three schemes is Andrew Gillum."

The defense argued that the payments to Gillum from P&P were for legitimate purposes, including using his brand as a political influencer.

“It’s OK for him to work for P&P to be paid by P&P,” FBI agent Michael Wiederspahn told jurors last week. “It’s only illegal if the source of the funding is taken fraudulently.”

In February 2017, the same month Gillum declared his candidacy for governor, he left his position at People for the American Way, which "essentially cut his family's income in half," Wiederspahn said.

There he earned about $120,000 before taxes, according to financial summaries shown by the prosecution in court.

In 2016, Gillum and his wife earned about $173,000 after taxes, with about $114,000 in fixed and recurring expenses. Without the payments from P&P, Gillum's household income was about $129,000.

Prosecutors say Gillum needed to recover his lost salary, which they say gave him motive for the alleged fraud. They showed the jury Gillum's fixed household expenses, with Wiederspahn testifying that he wasn't a frugal spender when asked about money leftover from fixed expenses.

Gillum and Lettman-Hicks were in constant communication throughout his campaign for governor. Phone records show they spoke on average more than twice a day.

"When you talk to someone that much, is there anything you're not going to share with them?" asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Grogan during closing arguments.

Prosecutors zeroed in on a few phone calls for the jury: Ones that occurred in close proximity to the allegedly fraudulent transactions.

The defense argued that because Gillum and Lettman-Hicks spoke so frequently throughout the campaign, the jury shouldn't assume the calls occurring around the same time certain transactions took place proves conspiracy to commit fraud.

The FBI put together financial summary charts for P&P and Gillum that were shown to the jury by the prosecution. They indicate that P&P Communications wouldn't have had enough money to pay Gillum those amounts without the "ill-gotten" funds.

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Valerie Crowder is a freelance reporter based in Panama City, Florida. Before moving to Florida, she covered politics and education for Public Radio East in New Bern, North Carolina. While at PRE, she was also a fill-in host during All Things Considered. She got her start in public radio at WAER-FM in Syracuse, New York, where she was a part-time reporter, assistant producer and host. She has a B.A. in newspaper online journalism and political science from Syracuse University. When she’s not reporting the news, she enjoys reading classic fiction and thrillers, hiking with members of the Florida Trail Association and doing yoga.
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