ETHICS INVESTIGATION: Gillum questions could focus on campaign finance violations

Mayor Andrew Gillum addresses supporters and urges that they keep politically engaged as the Broward County of Supervisor of Elections Office have five days to recount cast votes over an entire month leading up to Tuesday's midterm election. Gillum held a faith-based recount rally inside New Mount Olive Baptist Church in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. (Carl Juste/Miami Herald via AP)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — As federal prosecutors poke around issues involving Andrew Gillum, they could be looking into potential “misuse or misreporting” of campaign money tied to the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial nominee, according to Gillum’s attorney, Barry Richard.


Documents and information demanded in a federal subpoena, issued in late March, have been turned over, Richard said. That included records focused on Gillum’s campaign, his Forward Florida political committee, and information related to Sharon Lettman-Hicks, a longtime Gillum adviser, and Donald Sussman, a heavyweight Democratic donor.

“It’s difficult sometimes to gather these things,” Richard said, because a lot of the people involved with the gubernatorial campaign are now “gone.”

But as far as he knows, the information demanded in the federal subpoena has been turned over to authorities.

A Tampa Bay Times story Thursday disclosed the issuance of the subpoena. The full scope of the federal probe is not known, and being named in a subpoena does not mean a person is under investigation. But prosecutors could be seeking to gather information to present to a grand jury.

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Regardless of that, the federal probe is once again raising questions for Gillum at a time when the former Tallahassee mayor seeks to use money from the Forward Florida political committee to register more Democratic voters for the 2020 elections. The committee had about $3.7 million on hand as of the end of April.

It also comes about a week before the Florida Commission on Ethics is slated to consider approval of a $5,000 settlement in a case stemming from Gillum’s time as mayor. Under the settlement, which will be taken up June 7, the commission would drop four of five charges of ethics violations related to trips Gillum took to Costa Rica and New York with a lobbyist and undercover FBI agents who were posing as developers.

Richard said the newly disclosed subpoena is not linked to those issues.

“This is not related to his term as mayor,” Richard said. “It’s related to his campaign."

When asked if he believed the subpoena could impact the ethics commission’s decision on the settlement, Richard said, “I don’t think so.”

“It has nothing to do with the settlement at all. It clearly is a whole different issue,” he said. “They don’t have the authority, or the interest, to continue investigating on something they don’t have evidence on.”

In January, the commission unanimously found probable cause that Gillum violated state ethics laws for allegedly accepting gifts from lobbyist Adam Corey, a Tallahassee entrepreneur who is a former close friend of Gillum. The settlement was reached on April 24, which was after the federal subpoena had been issued, according to the Tampa Bay Times, which obtained a copy of the subpoena.

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As to exactly what federal prosecutors are looking into with the subpoena, Richard downplayed the situation, arguing that anybody can “cause an investigation on anybody when people file a complaint.”

“Somebody will file a complaint of wrongdoing to the FBI, and then they issue a subpoena,” he said.

Based on the information demanded in the subpoena, Richard said prosecutors could be gathering information about a complaint dealing with the misuse or inaccurate reporting of campaign money. But he added it may not necessarily have to do with allegations of wrongdoing by Gillum, suggesting the complaint could be linked to a donor.

From those named in the subpoena, the biggest donor is Sussman, who gave $1.5 million to Gillum’s political committee in August and October of last year, shortly after Gillum became the Democratic nominee for Florida governor. Republican Ron DeSantis narrowly defeated Gillum in the November election.

However, Richard acknowledged he is in the dark on most of the case as of now. “They don’t tell anybody anything,” he said.

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