The timing could not be worse for Democrat gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum. Ahead by a slim margin in recent polls over Republican rival Ron DeSantis, and with voters swarming to vote early in record numbers, Gillum is now facing the biggest crisis of the election cycle: the newspaper that endorsed him just broke a blockbuster story alleging that Gillum lied to the public about a gift he received from an undercover FBI agent while on a business trip in New York City. And his acceptance of the gift may qualify as a bribe under Florida law.
One thing we know for certain: this isn’t a situation where a friend gave Gillum a gift. This was an undercover FBI agent, and the FBI almost certainly took steps to ensure it qualified as a bribe under both federal and state law. Legal experts say that in Florida it is a second degree felony for any public official to accept a bribe in the form of financial or other benefits in exchange for performing official duties. Public officials can be prosecuted even if they simply accept the gifts but don’t take any official actions:
Prosecution under this section shall not require that the exercise of influence or official discretion, or violation of a public duty or performance of a public duty, for which a pecuniary or other benefit was given, offered, promised, requested, or solicited was accomplished…
Worse for Gillum, it’s not the word of another, but his own words – in the form of a text message – exposing his acceptance of the potential bribe. Here’s the relevant paragraphs from the Tampa Bay Times story:
The text messages show that, contrary to what his campaign has said, Gillum knew the tickets came from “Mike Miller,” who was an FBI agent posing as a developer looking into city corruption.
“Mike Miller and the crew have tickets for us for Hamilton tonight at 8 p.m.,” Corey texted Gillum on Aug. 10, 2016.
“Awesome news about Hamilton,” Gillum replied, according to the records.
The texts appear to refute what Gillum’s campaign said just days after his unlikely win in the Democratic primary for Florida governor. The campaign said in a Sept. 4 press release that Gillum’s brother, Marcus, gave him the ticket.
Gillum’s explanation for why he accepted the bribe is a complicated and incredible tale involving him personally purchasing a ticket to an unrelated concert, then making a fair-and-square trade with his brother, Marcus Gillum, for the Hamilton ticket. Gillum’s campaign has thus far not offered any further details about which concert, how much the ticket was worth, or any proof of purchase.
But the underlying details of the explanation may not even matter. Gillum received a gift from an undercover FBI agent to the Broadway show Hamilton, period. That is against the law. At no point did Gillum reimburse the person who purchased the ticket on his behalf. His own text message proves he knew the ticket was purchased for him. It doesn’t matter what he gave to his brother in trade – if he actually gave anything at all – because he accepted the free Hamilton ticket, and he knew exactly where it came from.
At the time, tickets to see Hamilton were extremely hard to get. Unless the FBI purchased the tickets months in advance, their undercover sting operation would have been forced to buy the tickets from the secondary market – scalpers – at nearly $1,000 per seat:
Since its rise to prominence, Hamilton has made headlines for the inflated cost of its seats. Most Hamilton tickets are bought by brokers early in the season, then re-sold through third-party platforms. With prices on the secondary market hovering around $1,000 — more than 700 percent of the original $139 cost — Hamilton producers raised prices on most seats to deter brokers.
If a public figure accepts a $100 bribe but then offers the defense that he gave his family member $100, it doesn’t change the fact that he accepted the bribe in the first place. By acknowledging in the text message that he knew the source of the gift, and by his subsequent use of the ticket, Gillum appears to have committed a felony under Florida law.