Florida Democrat Andrew Gillum, who lost a close 2018 election to Governor Ron DeSantis before being found in a motel unconscious with drugs and a male escort, will have to face trial on federal charges including fraud and lying to the FBI.
U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor declined last week to throw out the case against Gillum, calling his claims the charges were brought because he is black “meritless.”
Gillum and an associate were indicted earlier this year on charges including conspiracy, wire fraud, and making false statements to FBI agents. Prosecutors say the former Tallahassee mayor used campaign donations for personal expenses during his failed gubernatorial campaign.
According to the federal indictment unsealed in June in the Northern District of Florida, Gillum and public relations executive Sharon Lettman-Hicks allegedly solicited hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign funds in 2017 and then diverted funds for their personal use and gain. Lettman-Hicks allegedly listed Gillum as an employee at her firm and later as an “independent contractor” in order to pay him a salary while he ran for governor.
Gillum met with FBI agents posing as developers while he was mayor of Tallahassee and during his campaign for governor, according to prosecutors. His team sought donations from the undercover agents, allegedly suggesting they not be listed as political contributions.
After Gillum lost to DeSantis, he was seen as a rising star in Democratic politics and was hired as a CNN analyst. But in March of 2020, he was found intoxicated and unconscious in a hotel room with two men, including a male escort, and methamphetamine. He went into rehab and later said in a television interview that he is bisexual.
“I was in Miami last night for a wedding celebration when first responders were called to assist one of my friends,” Gillum said in the statement following the incident. “While I had too much to drink, I want to be clear that I have never used methamphetamines. I apologize to the people of Florida for the distraction this has caused our movement.”
DeSantis won the 2018 election by a mere four-tenths of a percentage point. On election night, DeSantis was up by 100,000 votes, but then late-counted ballots in Democratic strongholds cut the margin to just 34,000 votes, triggering a recount. DeSantis was finally confirmed as the winner on November 17.
Last month, DeSantis, who went on to become one of the nation’s most popular governors, won re-election with a 19-percentage point victory over Democrat Charlie Crist.