Florida Politics

Gillum says he wonders how a trusting friendship with a lobbyist drew FBI’s attention

Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum celebrates with supporters after nomination win

Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum celebrates in the Florida capital with supporters after winning the Democratic nomination for governor on Aug. 29, 2018.
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Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum celebrates in the Florida capital with supporters after winning the Democratic nomination for governor on Aug. 29, 2018.

Read just about any story about Andrew Gillum, and it’s likely the story includes a mention about a three-year-long FBI corruption probe in Tallahassee, where he’s mayor.

There’s also a good chance that it mentions a second man, Adam Corey, a 38-year-old lobbyist and restauranteur at the heart of the FBI investigation.

In his campaign to become Florida’s next governor, Gillum, a Democrat, almost never mentions Corey, and he’s cut off contact with him.

But for more than a decade, the two were good friends. Corey was his campaign treasurer. The two vacationed together, and their personal relationship sometimes overlapped with city business.

What’s left of the friendship is a lingering suspicion on Gillum’s part about whether Corey betrayed him by intentionally exposing him to undercover FBI agents.

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Adam Corey Twitter

“I had a trusting relationship and I felt like I allowed people around me who were acquaintances of his because I trusted him,” Gillum told the Tallahassee Democrat in January. “ And it appears that if these guys were here for an investigation, that the only way they got to me was by leveraging my friendship with Adam.”

Gillum and Corey go back to their college years, when Gillum was active in student government. Gillum went to Florida A&M University. Corey went to Florida Gulf Coast before transferring to Florida State University in Tallahassee.

From there, Corey quickly enmeshed himself in the local community, becoming a fundraiser for the Seminole Boosters for six years after leaving the university. While there, he joined with former FSU football player Lance Barton to transform an old house a block away from campus into a popular club for students and alumni called Old School, according to the Democrat.

Much of Corey’s career since then has been as a booster for other people.

In 2008, Corey went to work for Harry Sargeant III, the wealthy oil magnate and FSU alumnus who was a major fundraiser for Charlie Crist. Corey was responsible for “managing new and existing client relationships” for Sargeant’s company, International Oil Trading.

Corey left Sargeant three years later to work for the Gunster law firm as a government affairs consultant. The next several years would see Corey’s business overlap with Gillum’s rise in city politics. In 2014, Corey joined Gillum’s campaign for mayor as a volunteer treasurer.

That role would come up the next year, when Corey led an effort to convert an old power plant near downtown into a restaurant called the Edison. Gillum voted multiple times as a member of the city commission in favor of the project — after disclosing the potential conflict with the city attorney.

“I have known Adam since we were in college when he was at Florida Gulf Coast and I was in student government at FAMU,” Gillum said before one of the votes. “I am pleased to have him as an entrepreneur in our community.”

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That project, and the more than $2 million in city redevelopment money that went into it, would later attract the interest of the FBI.

Gillum’s ties to Corey didn’t stop them from traveling together. Various media reports show that Gillum and Corey traveled with or met up with each other a handful of times in 2015 and 2016, including:

To Pittsburgh in January 2015, when Gillum met with that city’s mayor, according to Tallahassee Reports, a local newspaper run by a former city commission candidate, a Republican, who has been critical of Gillum.

To Tampa in February 2016 to meet with one of Corey’s clients, an affordable housing developer. Corey arranged the trip on a private plane, but Gillum paid for it out of his office account, according to the Democrat.

To Costa Rica in May 2016, along with Gillum’s wife and about 10 other people. That trip is now the subject of an ethics complaint.

To Qatar later that month, when Gillum went to attend a conference on Middle Eastern economics sponsored by the University of California, Los Angeles. Corey was apparently also in the area, and Gillum asked UCLA officials to allow Corey to attend the conference, according to the Democrat.

To New York City in August 2016, when Gillum was attending a conference on behalf of the People for the American Way Foundation, a nonprofit that employed him. On the last night and day of the trip, Gillum hung out with Corey and two undercover agents posing as businessmen. That trip is also part of the ethics complaint.

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Since those trips, Corey has found himself at the center of the FBI investigation. Federal officials have served multiple subpoenas on Tallahassee city hall requesting records relating to a variety of people and businesses, including Corey and two of his businesses. One of those businesses is the Edison, the restaurant that received the Community Redevelopment Agency funding.

The FBI has yet to charge anyone, and Gillum says that agents have assured him he’s neither a target nor a focus of the probe.

Whether Corey was cooperating with FBI agents is unknown. His lawyer declined to make him available for an interview. Reports say that Corey has left Tallahassee and that his lobbying business has dried up.

As Corey and the FBI probe have dogged his campaign for governor, Gillum has wondered whether Corey was working with the agents.

In January, he told the Democrat, “I don’t know if he had a relationship with these folks or that he thought they legitimately had an interest in Tallahassee or if there was intention toward deception.”

Contact Lawrence Mower at lmower@tampabay.com. Follow @lmower3.
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