Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum predicts victory in the Florida governor’s race
Undercover FBI agents paid for Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum’s hotel room and his ticket to the Broadway musical “Hamilton” during a 2016 trip to New York City, according to a bombshell trove of records that raises new questions two weeks before the Nov. 6 election for Florida governor.
Among the records released Tuesday: photos, a video and dozens of text messages between Gillum, who is the Democratic nominee for governor, former lobbyist Adam Corey and an undercover FBI agent. They appear to contradict Gillum’s explanation for the expenses, which have been made a major issue by his Republican rival, Ron DeSantis.
Gillum’s campaign has maintained — and continued to do so Tuesday after the records were released — that Gillum’s brother, Marcus, handed him the ticket the night of the show.
But text messages at the time of the trip show Gillum was told the tickets came from “Mike Miller,” an FBI agent looking into city corruption who was posing as a developer.
“Mike Miller and the crew have tickets for us for Hamilton tonight at 8 p.m.,” Corey texted Gillum on Aug. 10, 2016.
“Awesome news about Hamilton,” Gillum replied, according to the records.
The campaign has not said how Marcus Gillum, who lives in Chicago, came by such a sought-after Broadway ticket, or whether Andrew Gillum asked his brother about it.
“These messages only confirm what we have said all along,”Andrew Gillum said on Facebook Live on Tuesday. “We did go to see ‘Hamilton.’ I did get my ticket to ‘Hamilton’ from my brother. At the time, we believed that they were reserved by friends of Adam’s, Mike Miller.
“And when I got there after work, got my ticket, we went in there and saw it, assumed my brother paid for it, and so far as I know, that was the deal.”
DeSantis’ campaign pounced with a statement: “It’s now abundantly clear that Andrew Gillum has repeatedly lied about taking free gifts and trips from lobbyists. If he’ll lie about these gifts and trips from lobbyists on national television, what else is he lying about?”
The new records came from Chris Kise, an attorney representing Corey. Kise said he gave the records to the Florida Commission on Ethics, which is investigating a complaint about Gillum’s trips to New York City and Costa Rica with Corey. He then gave copies to the campaigns of Gillum and DeSantis.
Once a close friend of Gillum’s, Corey is at the center of the FBI’s long-running probe into corruption in Tallahassee. No one has been charged, and Gillum has said that agents assured him he was neither a target nor a focus of the probe.
Gillum has repeatedly given vague answers to questions about who paid for the New York City trip. His avoidance of a direct answer became pronounced during a Sunday debate on CNN between DeSantis and Gillum.
“Did you pay for the ‘Hamilton’ tickets?” DeSantis asked.
“First of all, I am a grown man,” Gillum replied. “My wife and I take vacations and we pay for our own vacations … I don’t take free trips from anybody. I’m a hard-working person, I know that may not fit your description of what you think people like me do, but I’ve worked hard for everything that I’ve gotten in my life.”
The new records go beyond Broadway tickets.
They show that undercover FBI agents posing as businessmen were working for months to get an out-of-state meeting with Gillum, and that Gillum appeared willing to oblige them.
In June 2016, Corey texted Miller, the undercover agent, telling him that he would discuss options with Gillum.
“I just want to make it a good trip and Sweets and B will be booked on something else if we don’t lock something down,” Miller replied.
“Mike Sweets” and “Brian Butler” were the two other undercover FBI agents posing as businessmen.
Corey then followed up proposing to meet in Las Vegas.
“AG thinks Vegas in August is an easier option for him,” Corey texted Miller, referring to Gillum. “He is double checking availability with his office now. Stand by.”
Instead of Las Vegas, they met in New York, while Gillum was attending a conference on behalf of the People for the American Way Foundation, a liberal advocacy group that employed him.
Text messages show Miller paid for the airfare and hotel room for Gillum’s brother, Marcus.
“Send me the mayor and his brother’s information and I will have my girl book their flights,” Miller wrote.
Corey replied that Gillum had already booked his flight, but he would send his brother’s information “ASAP.”
“Just tell them to let me know what their flights cost and I will cover it,” Miller said.
The ethics complaint was filed against Gillum in June this year, and Gillum met with investigators in early September.
Kise said Corey was issued a subpoena for records on Oct. 15 and was releasing the records now because they were going to become public anyway. He said they showed Corey did not participate in any criminal activity.
“Mr. Corey seeks, as he has sought in the past, to remove himself from the center of rampant and untoward speculation,” Kise wrote. “Hopefully, disclosure of the actual facts will now permit him to do so, and to move forward with his life and career.”
It’s rare but not unprecedented for the commission to use its subpoena power, as it did in the Gillum case.
“We do not keep track of the number of subpoenas issued by the commission,” commission spokeswoman Kerrie Stillman said. “However, subpoenas are not uncommon.”
By law, ethics complaints are confidential until they are dismissed, a probable cause finding is made or the target of a complaint voluntarily waives confidentiality — which Gillum has not done.
Tuesday’s document dump was the type of event Democrats feared when Gillum won the party’s nomination in August but hoped would never come. Though supporters generally dismissed the significance of the texts and emails between Gillum and Corey, one Democratic consultant acknowledged that anyone on the fence about Gillum could be deflated.
The timing of the release — exactly two weeks before Election Day and on the second day of early voting — comes during a key period for the Democratic Party, when voters typically begin showing up to the polls in large numbers and making up the advantage Republicans build during absentee voting. During the primary election, it was Gillum’s election-day surge that put him ahead of his rivals.
Chris Korge, a Gillum supporter and Democratic booster, said he doesn’t think the release of texts and emails will dampen support for Gillum. Korge said he thinks two Hillary Clinton fundraisers in South Florida raised a combined $2.5 million for Gillum on Tuesday, and said he’s got another fundraiser planned with more than 400 attendees this week in Coral Gables.
Herald/Times staff writers Elizabeth Koh and Steve Bousquet, Miami Herald staff writer David Smiley, and Tampa Bay Times staff writer Steve Contorno contributed to this report.