During the 2018 election season, Florida’s Democratic gubernatorial candidate — then-mayor of Tallahassee Andrew Gillum — was accused of violating state ethics laws by accepting gifts from lobbyists. Local businessman and ethics watchdog Erwin Jackson filed an official complaint against Gillum in 2017.
The Florida Commission on Ethics on Friday found “probable cause” to proceed with an investigation into five of the six counts in the complaint against Gillum.
The Tampa Bay Times reported that the case against Gillum will now move to the Division of Administrative Hearings within the next two months where an independent judge will review the evidence collected in the case against Gillum.
Gillum’s attorney, Richard Barry, told reporters, “We’re going to have a full evidentiary hearing before an independent judge. It’ll be open to the public, and everybody can decide for themselves.” He added, “There for sure will be no settlement.”
Unreported gifts and trips from lobbyists and undercover agents
At the heart of the complaint against Gillum are allegations that he accepted “things of value” in the form of unreported gifts in excess of $100 “in return for access and influence.”
The ethics commission concluded that there was enough probable cause to show that Gillum either knew or should have known the gifts were above the threshold to be reported, and that he knew or should have known the gifts were intended to buy access and influence with his administration in Tallahassee.
Those alleged gifts were connected with Gillum’s trips with lobbyists to both Costa Rica and New York City, a boat trip around the Statue of Liberty, and tickets to the Broadway show “Hamilton.”
A sixth allegation in the complaint, accusing Gillum of actively soliciting gifts, was found to have no probable cause by the commission. Furthermore, the findings of probable cause on the other five charges don’t signify guilt or innocence, but merely allow the case to proceed to the next level.
While Gillum has denied any wrongdoing and his attorney seemed confident that he would prevail once the administrative hearing had been held, the man who brought the complaint against Gillum also appeared confident of victory.
WCTV reported that Jackson told reporters after the closed-door ethics commission hearing, “Hopefully the word is getting out that we expect our elected officials to act ethically and honestly.” He added, “I am sick and tired of the corruption in Tallahassee.”
Judging by the findings of the ethics commission, it looks like Florida voters narrowly avoided an embarrassing mistake by electing Republican nominee Ron DeSantis instead.
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