FBI Corruption Probe of Gillum More Serious Than Expected
By David A. Patten
An FBI corruption probe that Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum insists is not focused on him has taken a turn for the worse.
The Florida Ethics Commission has issued new subpoenas, as government watchdogs and the press question the Tallahassee mayor’s travel expenses and interactions with undercover FBI agents.
With most polls showing Democrat Gillum nursing a slight lead over Republican Ron DeSantis, Gillum seems intent on evading questions and running out the clock until next Tuesday’s election.
According to the state Division of Elections, some 3 million Floridians have already cast ballots in early voting.
“Let me be very clear about what the record is,” Gillum declared during the gubernatorial debate on Oct. 21. “I am not under FBI investigation, and neither is my city government. What we have done is, we have welcomed them in. If there is someone who has done something wrong, they ought to be held fully accountable for their actions.”
Republican Ron DeSantis shot back: “When I worked with the FBI, I was doing it as a prosecutor to bring people to justice. When Andrew is dealing with the FBI, he’s dealing with an undercover agent as a person of interest in an investigation.”
That’s a reference to a federal corruption investigation been underway in Tallahassee for about three years. The probe apparently focuses on political influence and Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) deals that took place in the city.
Adam Corey, a longtime Gillum friend and lobbyist, introduced him to three men who represented themselves as businessmen interested in developing Tallahassee — but they were actually undercover FBI agents. The agents had plenty of cash, and provided Gillum and a companion with $1,000 tickets to the Broadway musical “Hamilton.”
Also, an undercover agent who went by the name of Mike Miller was invoiced for the $4,386 food and bar tab at a $5,000-per-plate fundraiser to raise money for Gillum’s political action committee. That bill was apparently paid by the agent.
Throughout the corruption scandal, Gillum has insisted that the FBI has assured him he is not the focus of its investigation.
In an exclusive interview, former FBI Assistant Director Ron Hosko tells Newsmax that without addressing the specifics of the corruption probe in Tallahassee, subjects rarely know the scope of an investigation prior to grand jury indictments.
“Generally speaking,” Hosko tells Newsmax, “you’ll find out you are the focus of the probe when you have handcuffs on you or when an indictment is returned by the grand jury and you get to read the charges.
“Before that point, it’s not as though the government has an obligation to go out and tell people who were not the focus of the probe, ‘Hey, we weren’t looking at you.’
“Now, maybe there’s some reason why he knows that,” Hosko speculates. Still, Hosko says cases can always change based the information the FBI develops.
“As they start to conduct an investigation,” he says, “they’re always looking for, ‘Is there a need to expand the investigation? Do we expand to additional subjects?’”
Among the wide array of potential ethical and even legal issues that Gillam could be facing:
The Costa Rica Trip — The mayor’s chief of staff, Jamie Van Pelt, told the Tallahassee Democrat that Gillum’s weeklong visit to a $1,400-per-night resort in Costa Rica with lobbyists was purely a vacation and did not involve official business.
But emails obtained by the Democrat show that during that vacation Corey, who served in a voluntary capacity as the treasurer of Gillum’s mayoral campaign, sent Gillum a calendar invitation to a May 16 meeting with Gillum and Miller, the undercover agent.
Common Cause Florida board member Pete Butzin told the Democrat, “The mayor seems totally oblivious to even the appearance of a conflict of interest. He’s got to understand this thing is going to come back and bite him.”
“Hamilton” Trip — Florida Commission on Ethics is looking into Gillum’s acceptance of an expensive ticket to see the Broadway musical “Hamilton.” Gillum was reportedly in New York City in a business capacity for his former employer, the left-leaning People for the American Way organization.
The reason the $1,000 tickets have drawn the attention of state ethics investigators: Officials are not permitted to receive any gift valued at over $100 from someone doing business with their city.
Ben Wilcox of the nonprofit Integrity Florida watchdog group told the Democrat: “They need to be careful when they’re accepting things from lobbyists. We don’t know if that’s the case but it sure was an opportunity for it.” Wilcox adds: “If there were any gifts, did the mayor report them as required? It’s a gray area but with lots of potential pitfalls.”
In the debates, DeSantis was been quick to pounce on the issue.
“He wants you to believe that he’s not under investigation,” DeSantis said. “Why would an undercover FBI agent posing as a contractor give him a $1,000 ticket to ‘Hamilton?’”
While denying any wrongdoing, Gillum conceded, “I should have asked more questions to make sure that everything that transpired was above board.”
The trip also involved a boat ride in New York harbor that included the undercover agents. It is not known who paid for the tour boat ticket. The New York trip and boat ride are reportedly not mentioned on any of Gillum’s gift disclosure forms.
Trip to Tampa — Critics charge that Gillum used office funds to pay for travel to Tampa on Feb. 12, 2016 to meet with several Florida powerbrokers — including former Florida CFO Alex Sink and Rep. Charlie Crist — to line up support his gubernatorial campaign.
Gillum flew to the event abroad a private aircraft provided by Peter Leach, senior vice president of a financial services firm based in Tampa. Leach charged $400 for the flight, and was reimbursed out of the mayor’s office account. That account is used to pay for city business, and not for trips of a political or personal nature.
The political tenor of the trip was revealed by 44 pages of emails released by Chris Kise, a lawyer who represents lobbyist Corey and who has strong GOP ties.
The documents were presented in response to a subpoena Kise says he received from the Florida Commission on Ethics as part of its investigation. The Gillum campaign dismissed the document dump as an attempt “to confuse and distract voters.”
The Republican Governor’s Association shot off an email stating “the documents show that Gillum may have used official office funds to pay for a campaign trip.”
$5,000-A-Plate Fundraiser — When Gillum was planning an event to kick off his gubernatorial campaign, he decided to invite about 40 influential Tallahassee residents to an event in his honor to raise money for what would become his campaign PAC, Forward Florida. The invoice for the food and beverage expense of $4,386 was sent to Miller, a supposed developer who was actually an undercover agent working for the FBI.
The Tallahassee Democrat reports: “According to state campaign records, Forward Florida didn’t report Miller’s contribution. Gillum’s campaign said he did not receive any contributions from the supposed developer.”
The newspaper notes by state law “contributions in kind having an attributable monetary value in any form” are considered contributions, adding, “Failing to report a contribution is a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in prison.”
Redevelopment District Expansion — The Democrat reports that Miller and his FBI associates went to the city with a request that a property they sought to develop be included in an expansion of the Frenchtown/Southside redevelopment district to boost their plans for a multi-million dollar mixed use project.
Gillum was reportedly absent on June 23, 2016, when the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA), consisting of city and county commissioners, accepted a staff recommendation to expand those boundaries. Gillum was on hand, however, on July 13 when the City Commission approved the expansion recommended by the CRA.
Two days later, Gillum reportedly flew for a weekend trip to Atlanta, the supposed headquarters of the fictional development company that FBI undercover agent Miller claimed to operate. It is not known if Gillum and Miller met that weekend.
The Democrat reported that Miller on July 19 emailed Corey to ask how he could thank Gillum for “last week.”
One reason Corey may have been the access point to Gillum: His long relationship with the mayor, dating back to when they served in student government together in college.
After serving as the volunteer treasurer for Gillum’s mayoral campaign, the Democrat reports “Gillum supported the selection of Corey to convert the old Electric Building in Cascades Park into the Edison restaurant with $2.1 million in local aid.”
Corey was named in one of two subpoenas served on the city, which according to the Democrat resulted in nearly a quarter-million records being handed over to the FBI.
The newspaper adds that Gillum’s chief of staff did not reply to an email inquiring about the purpose of Gillum’s Atlanta visit. The Gillum campaign did not respond to a Newsmax email sent Tuesday afternoon requesting comment.
Hosko, the former FBI assistant director, says that without being privy to the investigation, anyone speculating about the corruption probe is “really just spit balling.”
But this much, he says, is clear: The FBI will not back off of an investigation just because a suspect, any suspect, attains a higher elective office.
“If they have a predication to start, they are going to pursue it to its logical conclusion. If its logical conclusion is — and I’m saying this as a hypothetical — we had a corrupt mayor who is now the corrupt governor and we have hooks into him, we have bribes into him, his election as governor I think is not going to change one thing from the perspective of the FBI.
“His election to higher office would not be a deterrent,” he says.
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