Fla. Politician Andrew Gillum Charged with Wire Fraud, Making False Statements: 'Target on My Back'
Andrew Gillum, the former Tallahassee mayor who narrowly lost a bid to become Florida's governor, was accused Wednesday of fraudulently raising and distributing funds, according to a federal indictment obtained by PEOPLE.
The indictment alleges that Gillum and his mentor, Sharon Lettman-Hicks, conspired to commit wire fraud between 2016 and 2019 by using false promises to solicit funds from donors, then crafting a workaround that would allow them to route those donations into Gillum's personal accounts.
Each defendant is charged with 19 counts of wire fraud for allegedly carrying out the plan, and Gillum faces an additional charge of making false statements to FBI agents related to the reporting of his campaign contributions.
According to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Florida, conspiracy and wire fraud charges can each result in prison sentences of up to 20 years. The maximum sentence for a false statements charge is five years.
Gillum and Lettman-Hicks appeared in federal court shortly after the indictment was unsealed Wednesday afternoon, where they pleaded not guilty to all charges, multiple outlets report.
PEOPLE's request for comment from Gillum was not immediately returned, but in a statement shared with NBC News on Wednesday, Gillum responded to the charges, writing, "I have spent the last 20 years of my life in public service and continue to fight for the people. Every campaign I've run has been done with integrity."
"Make no mistake that this case is not legal, it is political," he continued. "Throughout my career I have always stood up for the people of Florida and have spoken truth to power. There's been a target on my back ever since I was the mayor of Tallahassee. They found nothing then, and I have full confidence that my legal team will prove my innocence now."
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Gillum, now 42, was once a promising up-and-comer in the Democratic Party, falling just short of beating Ron DeSantis in Florida's 2018 gubernatorial race. Young, Black and now known to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community, he brought a powerful perspective to the table — but two years ago, his career came crashing down.
In March 2020, Gillum was found inebriated in a Miami-area hotel room with a male escort who had overdosed, a scandal that pushed the politician to retreat from public life while he entered rehab for alcoholism.
News that he was in the hotel with a male escort put intimate details of his personal life under the spotlight, leading him to come out as bisexual and speak with press alongside his wife, R. Jai Gillum, about their marriage.
With criminal charges now on the table, any chance of a political future for Gillum looks increasingly slim.