Jury Acquits Andrew Gillum, Former DeSantis Rival, of Lying to the F.B.I.

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A federal jury acquitted Andrew Gillum, the Democrat who lost the 2018 Florida governor’s race to Ron DeSantis, of lying to the F.B.I. on Thursday. But jurors failed to reach a verdict on charges related to whether Mr. Gillum and a close associate diverted campaign funds when Mr. Gillum was running for governor.

After more than four days of deliberation, the 12-member jury said it had reached agreement only on the charge that Mr. Gillum made false statements when the F.B.I. interviewed him in 2017. Judge Allen C. Winsor of the Federal District Court in Tallahassee declared a mistrial on one conspiracy charge and 17 fraud charges against Mr. Gillum and Sharon Lettman-Hicks.

Mr. Gillum, 43, and Ms. Lettman-Hicks, 54, a friend and mentor since he was in college, were indicted last June over how they had raised and used political funds when he was the mayor of Tallahassee and a candidate for governor. Two of the initial 21 charges were dropped just before the trial began last month.

Ms. Lettman-Hicks, who was tried jointly with Mr. Gillum, had been indicted only on the conspiracy and fraud charges on which the jury failed to reach a verdict.

Inside the courtroom, Mr. Gillum pumped his fist when the not-guilty verdict was read. He then hugged his wife, R. Jai.

Outside the federal courthouse after the verdict, Mr. Gillum said he was grateful to the jurors and felt as if he had been “hunted for seven years.”

“They’ve quite literally tried to take everything from us,” he said. “The beauty is that in our system, the powers that be don’t always get to decide. Everyday people like you and me sometimes get our swing at the ball. And today, the jury took it.”

Prosecutors could choose to retry Mr. Gillum and Ms. Lettman-Hicks on the conspiracy and fraud charges.

Long before the indictments, questions over Mr. Gillum’s conduct at City Hall clouded his underdog campaign for governor five years ago. Yet after securing the Democratic nomination, he emerged as a progressive darling who would have become Florida’s first Black governor. In the end, he lost by about 32,000 votes to Mr. DeSantis, then a little-known Republican who is now considered a likely 2024 presidential contender.

After the election, Mr. Gillum became engulfed in personal struggles. He entered rehab to seek treatment for alcoholism in 2020, shortly after the police found him in a Miami Beach hotel room where another man was suffering from a possible drug overdose. Mr. Gillum later came out as bisexual.

The trial, which lasted two weeks before jury deliberations began last Friday, was dominated by testimony from prosecution witnesses, including a recently retired F.B.I. agent. The prosecution also presented emails, text messages, financial documents and wiretapped conversations as evidence.

The F.B.I. began investigating Tallahassee City Hall in 2015, a year after Mr. Gillum took office, sending undercover agents to pose as real estate developers. The next year, Mr. Gillum spent time in New York with the undercover agents, where among other things they went to see the Broadway musical “Hamilton.”

The trip became an issue in the 2018 campaign for governor because Mr. Gillum had not disclosed the show ticket or other gifts at the time as required by state law. In 2019, he paid a $5,000 fine to settle the resulting Florida ethics case.

The charge that Mr. Gillum was acquitted of, for making false statements to the F.B.I., stemmed from what he disclosed to the bureau about the interactions he had with the undercover agents during his time as mayor.

Mr. Gillum was not accused of receiving any bribes. Andrew J. Grogan, an assistant U.S. attorney, argued at trial that Mr. Gillum nevertheless denied to the F.B.I. that he received gifts — the “Hamilton” ticket, a hotel room, dinner and a boat ride — from the undercover agents and lied when he told the F.B.I. that he had cut off contact with the agents after they tried to bribe him.

David O. Markus, Mr. Gillum’s defense attorney, noted that Mr. Gillum willingly told the F.B.I. that the undercover agents were trying to bribe him.

“That’s evidence that he wasn’t trying to deceive anyone,” Mr. Markus said. “This is a good man, a public servant. He deserves the benefit of the doubt.”

The conspiracy charge and 17 wire fraud charges against Mr. Gillum and Ms. Lettman-Hicks involved events that took place from 2016 to 2019.

According to prosecutors, Ms. Lettman-Hicks disguised fraudulent payments to Mr. Gillum as part of the payroll for her communications company, P & P Communications. The company hired Mr. Gillum after he resigned in 2017 from his job at People for the American Way, a liberal advocacy organization, to run for governor.

Prosecutors argued that Mr. Gillum conspired with Ms. Lettman-Hicks because he needed to replace the roughly $120,000 salary that he had given up. So when Mr. Gillum and Ms. Lettman-Hicks solicited tens of thousands of dollars in donations for his campaign for governor and two local political advocacy campaigns, some of those funds were diverted to P & P Communications or Mr. Gillum.

That included $50,000 intended for two nonprofit organizations, $60,000 intended for get-out-the-vote efforts and about $130,000 of a $250,000 contribution from a wealthy donor intended for Mr. Gillum’s campaign.

Mr. Markus, the defense lawyer, said that none of the donors had complained about how the money was spent.

“It’s difficult to understand why we’re even here,” Mr. Markus said.

He did not call a single witness for the defense, and Ms. Lettman-Hicks’s lawyers called only one.

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