Florida Politics

Ethics panel lambasts Andrew Gillum’s judgment on lobbyist trips, ‘Hamilton’ tickets

Andrew Gillum concedes Florida governor’s race to Ron DeSantis

After a tight race, Andrew Gillum concedes the Florida governor's race to Republican Ron DeSantis.
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After a tight race, Andrew Gillum concedes the Florida governor's race to Republican Ron DeSantis.

Former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum “should have known better” than to take a trip to Costa Rica with a lobbyist and his clients, a prosecutor for Florida’s ethics commission told commissioners in a scathing report released Wednesday.

In recommending commissioners pursue ethics allegations against the former Democratic nominee for Florida governor, Elizabeth Miller said Gillum accepted hundreds of dollars’ worth of airfare, tickets to the Broadway show “Hamilton,” and food — including a birthday cake for his wife — without reporting any of these items.

And neither Miller nor commissioners said they believed Gillum’s excuse, which he repeated during the campaign, that he was naive and too trusting of his onetime friend, former lobbyist Adam Corey.

“The problem here is Mr. Gillum did not ask anybody who paid for anything,” said Miller, who’s known as an “advocate” for the ethics commission. “He did not ask anybody, ‘Who do I reimburse? How much did this cost?’ We’re talking about the ‘Hamilton’ tickets, we’re talking about the boat ride. We’re talking about the cake — the birthday cake for his wife — we’re talking about the local air transportation for $292 that he had a lobbyist make for him and his wife to get from point A to point B.”

Miller implied that Gillum was intentionally ignorant.

“The point is,” she said, “he never intended to know what was paid for, (or) who paid for it, because he wasn’t going to report it if it was a gift.”

Criticism over Gillum’s cozy ties with Corey and his clients — two of whom happened to be undercover FBI agents investigating Tallahassee corruption — dogged the final months of Gillum’s run for governor.

Andrew Gillum speaks at a November 2018 news conference in Tallahassee, Fla. Florida’s ethics commission has said there was probable cause that Gillum broke ethics rules as mayor of Tallahassee. Steve Cannon AP

And the allegations could continue to haunt Gillum as he positions himself for a potential run for president in 2020.

On Wednesday, the commission released a recording of Friday’s meeting, along with hundreds of pages of records and hours of interviews with Gillum and others — a day after CNN announced that Gillum would be the network’s newest political commentator.

The commission voted unanimously that there was probable cause that Gillum broke ethics rules, but several commissioners lamented having to cast their vote.

Commissioner Daniel Brady, who said he voted for Gillum, called it “as unpleasant a vote as I’ve taken in my 2 1/2, 3 years on the commission.”

“It is very clear to me that Mr. Gillum exercised less than credibly reasonable judgment,” he said. “What is it? You sleep with dogs with fleas, you’re going to get bit? And he should have had, at least in my opinion, some understanding that these people weren’t his close personal friends because they thought he was a wonderful man.”

He added, “I think a person who gets 4 million votes to be elected to the governor of Florida, even though he lost, does not reflect well on our democratic processes and our ability to scrutinize candidates.”

Gillum’s case will now go before an administrative law judge in a public hearing that has yet to be scheduled. He could face fines for each of the five violations.

Commissioners last week were also sympathetic to the argument from Gillum’s lawyer, however, who noted that most of the evidence in the case is coming from Corey, a onetime friend who had a falling out as Gillum began his campaign for governor.

Corey submitted an affidavit stipulating Gillum never reimbursed him for the “Hamilton” ticket, lodging in Costa Rica, or anything else.

But Corey refused to be interviewed by ethics investigators, claiming through his lawyer that he was issued a federal grand jury subpoena. Gillum, on the other hand, was interviewed twice.

“I just think it’s not right to find probable cause when you have that kind of a circumstance,” attorney Barry Richard said. “You’re inviting anybody to say anything, and then say, ‘Sorry, I’m not going to answer questions.’”

But Richard struggled to convince commissioners that Gillum did not receive favors from Corey.

Records from Corey’s accounting firm showed that he took Gillum to lunch upon arriving in Costa Rica for a week-long trip in 2016, labeling the $98 expense as “lunch with Mayor Gillum to discuss city issues.”

Richard argued that Gillum never attended the lunch, and he said that Corey said the trip was work-related so that he could deduct it from his business’ expenses.

As for the “Hamilton” ticket, Gillum reiterated to investigators that he met his brother, Corey and two of Corey’s clients, who were undercover FBI agents, outside the theater, where his brother handed him a ticket.

Gillum’s brother told ethics investigators that he exchanged the tickets with Corey for five tickets to a Jay-Z concert, but when asked by investigators for proof that he bought the concert tickets, Marcus Gillum didn’t provide it.

Andrew Gillum told investigators that he never asked his brother who paid for the ticket, and was eventually told by a lawyer not to ask his brother about it.

“I had retained counsel on another matter, and it was basically their advice like, ‘You don’t need to know anything you don’t know at this point,’” Gillum said.

Miller told commissioners, however, that there was “much more evidence” that they had not yet heard about, and that she intended to subpoena Marcus Gillum’s records if they found probable cause.

“If we get to a hearing, all of that evidence will come out,” she said.