Andrew Gillum settles ethics case, agrees to $5,000 fine
Former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum opted to settle the ethics charges against him on Wednesday, short-circuiting what could have been a bruising final hearing and agreeing to a $5,000 fine for accepting a gift over $100 from a lobbyist.
It was an anti-climactic end to a saga that read like a pulpy paperback: a young mayor with his eyes on higher office jetting off to Costa Rica and New York City, where he hung out with lobbyist friends and people who turned out to be undercover FBI agents. While in New York, Gillum and his friends caught a performance of “Hamilton” and took a boat ride to the Statue of Liberty, an outing that proved his undoing in the ethics case.
Document: Read the settlement agreement in the Andrew Gillum ethics case
Gillum, who won the Democratic nomination for governor last year but lost the general election, declared “vindication” despite admitting in the agreement he violated ethics statutes.
Earlier, before leaving the hearing room, he spoke to reporters but didn’t take questions. He said his attorney, Barry Richard, was prepared to defend him “very vigorously.” But after Elizabeth Miller, prosecutor for the Florida Commission on Ethics, offered a settlement, he decided to take it.
“Today we were approached with a settlement that I believe keeps intact what I have said all along and throughout this process,” Gillum said. “But as any adult, when you learn more information, you have to step up and you take responsibility for what it is that you come to know. But I will tell you we are thankful for where we are today.”
As part of the proposed settlement, four of five civil ethics charges would be dropped, and Gillum would admit that he violated one provision of Florida ethics law banning gifts over $100 from a lobbyist or vendor. The Ethics Commission, whose decision to find probable cause in January led to the hearing, will take up the settlement during its June 7 meeting.
In a final twist of irony, Gov. Ron DeSantis, who defeated Gillum for governor and criticized him over the trips during televised debates, will be responsible for imposing the fine under Florida law. And while statutes don’t require it, governors typically impose ethics penalties as recommended.
The settlement doesn’t specify the gift behind the violation. But Richard and Gillum’s camp suggested it was the boat ride around New York harbor.
During his interview with ethics investigators last year, Gillum said he thought the boat ride was free but said he took “full responsibility” for it. Gillum’s former friend, lobbyist Adam Corey, was on the boat, as were two undercover FBI agents posing as fictitious business people named Mike Miller and Mike Sweets.
Gillum faced other charges, including misuse of office, which would have required prosecutors to meet a high legal hurdle and prove he acted corruptly or with wrongful intent.
But prosecutors acknowledged in the settlement that “the evidence does not warrant moving forward” on the other counts. That decision came after key witnesses for the state, including Corey, Miller and Gillum’s brother, Marcus Gillum, appeared to be no-shows as witnesses.
The former mayor’s hearing was set to begin at 9:30 a.m. at the Division of Administrative Hearings. But it was delayed several times, prompting speculation in the hearing room that settlement talks were underway. Richard previously vowed not to settle.
Gillum, who recently launched an ambitious statewide voter registration campaign, issued a press release saying the settlement confirmed what he said all along, that he “never knowingly” violated any ethics laws.
“Today is vindication,” he said, adding, “I’m eager to get back to the work of registering and re-engaging one million new Florida voters before 2020.”
The settlement signed by Gillum, however, plainly says he violated statutes by accepting a gift or gifts from a lobbyist.
“(Gillum) enters into this stipulation with the understanding of the seriousness of the allegations and gives his assurance that this proceeding has affected the manner in which he conducts himself as a public official in a positive way,” the settlement says.
Richard, during a press gaggle in the Division of Administrative Hearings room, said Gillum didn’t anguish over his decision to settle.
“I don’t think it was difficult at all because he had already said publicly that he made a mistake, particularly with that boat ride,” Richard said. “And he was thinking as these (people) as friends, not as a lobbyist, and he should have given it more consideration. I think he believes that that was a mistake and he should have thought more about it.”
Local businessman Erwin Jackson, who filed an ethics complaint over the trips, spoke out as Gillum wrapped his comments with reporters. “If you were innocent,” Jackson said, “you wouldn’t settle.” Jackson later noted in an email that the ethics controversy cost Gillum the governor’s race.
Gillum expressed contrition about his actions late in last year’s campaign, telling the Tallahassee Democrat in October “you won’t find me making this mistake again.” But he also publicly downplayed the accusations, saying in one debate with DeSantis that “We’ve got 99 issues and ‘Hamilton’ ain’t one of them.”
Courtesy of tallahassee.com