Civil-rights attorney Ben Crump is now seeking donations for a legal defense fund for Andrew Gillum, the former Democratic nominee for Florida governor who is facing federal public corruption charges.
In an email dated Thursday shared with City & State on Friday, the Tallahassee-based and nationally known Crump calls Gillum, his longtime friend and former Tallahassee mayor, “innocent” and “a man of integrity and a champion for the people.” Crump is not representing Gillum, whose case is being handled by Miami’s Markus/Moss law firm.
“The charges that have been brought against Mayor Gillum are unfounded and unsupported by any real evidence other than a relentless attempt to damage his character and take him off the political field where he is needed most,” Crump wrote, introducing the “Bring Justice Home Legal Defense Fund.”
Gillum was charged with conspiracy and wire fraud in a longstanding FBI probe into political corruption at Tallahassee City Hall. Gillum and former business partner (and now co-defendant) Sharon Lettman-Hicks were indicted last June on charges they illegally solicited and pocketed donations to his 2018 campaign, according to reporting by the Tallahassee Democrat. He has pleaded not guilty and a trial is set for April.
Gillum won an upset primary victory against former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham for the Democratic nomination but went on to lose to now-Gov. Ron DeSantis in a general election so close it triggered an automatic recount. Gillum had been hosting a podcast, “Real Talk with Andrew Gillum,” on Quake Media, but the company no longer lists it on its website.
Gillum was paying his legal costs out of his old political committee, Forward Florida. But earlier this year, committee treasurer Yolanda Brown filed a letter with the state Division of Elections to say the committee was being “disbanded effective immediately.” The fundraising panel – which had amassed almost $39 million since its creation in early 2016 – had about $125,000 left. The committee essentially ceased raising money by early 2020, and its last major expenditure of $440,000 was in July to Gillum’s criminal defense team.
His lawyers on Friday criticized the government keeping the names of witnesses, including FBI agents, confidential. In a motion, they said the agents "gotten plastered with alcohol during undercover meetings, some have actually offered and bought drugs, and some have even tried to ensnare their targets with women." It added that the agent witnesses "have big credibility problems. The government wants to ... keep from the public how it makes cases with law enforcement agents who have flouted the law. These matters should be open and not secret."
Crump calls out Donald Trump for comments on social media
In his email, Crump noted comments posted last year by former president Donald Trump to his social media network, Truth Social. “In the posts, Trump stated that he sent in the FBI and U.S Attorney's Office to stop the 2018 gubernatorial election from being ‘stolen’ from Ron DeSantis. This raises serious questions about what exactly Trump directed the FBI and U.S. Attorney's Office to do and whether it is related to the prosecution of Mayor Gillum.”
He went on: “We have also recently learned that the lead prosecutor (Stephen Kunz) behind investigating and charging Mayor Gillum has suddenly ‘retired’ from the U.S. Attorney's office just weeks before the Gillum case is set to go to trial. Something stinks here!”
Gillum could not be reached Friday. Requests for comment are pending with Crump’s spokesperson and with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Florida, which is prosecuting Gillum.
In a recent statement, however, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said Kunz “retired at the end of 2022 after 46 years of service as a state and federal prosecutor, which retirement had been long planned for many months.”
A federal judge already has refused to dismiss charges of lying to the FBI and wire fraud against Gillum, while also short-circuiting his lawyers’ contention that he is a victim of selective prosecution.
Crump, who recently received the NAACP's Social Justice Impact Award, has for years represented families of people killed in police custody, including George Floyd in Minneapolis and Tyre Nichols in Memphis. He attended a January rally in the Capitol where he threatened to sue Gov. Ron DeSantis over the state’s rejection of an African American studies course.