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Ethics panel signs off on Gillum settlement
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Ethics panel signs off on Gillum settlement

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TALLAHASSEE — A state ethics panel Friday approved a $5,000 fine for former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum despite some concerns a settlement wasn’t tough enough or that he has claimed vindication in a probe into his actions while serving as Tallahassee mayor.

The seven-member Florida Commission on Ethics, in a voice vote, accepted the settlement, which included dropping four of five charges of ethics violations. The probe involved trips Gillum took to Costa Rica and New York, a boat ride around the Statue of Liberty and a ticket to the Broadway hit, “Hamilton.”

Barry Richard, an attorney for Gillum, said he agreed to the single charge, which Richard said revolved around the boat trip. Richard said the trip may not have exceeded a $100 limit on gifts from lobbyists but violated Gillum’s “code of conduct.”

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“This was vigorously litigated with the state’s lawyers,” Richard said after the commission hearing. “The reason that the fine was what it was, is because they didn’t feel like their case was that strong and they were not prepared to go to trial on it. That’s how settlements happen.”

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But Commissioner Kimberly Rezanka, a Republican from Cocoa, noted that similar settlements drew higher fines and public censures in the past.

Also, Commissioner Joanne Leznoff, a Republican from Tallahassee, acknowledged that it is difficult to prove Gillum engaged in any “quid pro quo,” but she was concerned Gillum didn’t enter into the settlement “in good faith.”

“I believe that because on the day of the settlement, he issued a statement that he has been vindicated, that he did not knowingly violate state ethics laws, where he had just that day admitted that he had,” said Leznoff, who joined Rezanka in voting against the settlement.

When the settlement was announced in mid-April, Gillum issued a statement describing the end of the case as “vindication. The results confirm what I’ve said all along — the facts matter and I never knowingly violated any ethics laws.”

Richard said Friday that Gillum’s vindication statement reflects the settlement.

“I think when you’re charged with five things, most of which are very serious, and the state drops four of them, and the only one left is not very serious, I would consider that a vindication,” Richard said.

Elizabeth Miller, an attorney who negotiated the settlement in her role as advocate for the ethics commission, told the panel Friday there was “insufficient evidence” to pursue all the allegations and described the negotiations as “intense.”

The settlement was reached just before the case was set to go before an administrative law judge.

In January, the ethics commission unanimously found probable cause that Gillum, as Tallahassee mayor, violated ethics laws for allegedly accepting gifts from Tallahassee entrepreneur Adam Corey and undercover FBI agents posing as developers. Corey had been a close friend of Gillum and lobbied city officials.

The commission found probable cause that Gillum accepted gifts with a value of more than $100 from a lobbyist or vendor of the city and failed to report the gifts.

The accusations against Gillum became a theme for now-Gov. Ron DeSantis during a heated campaign leading to November’s election, in which the Republican narrowly edged out the former mayor. The campaign drew a national spotlight, in part, because of Gillum’s attempt to become the state’s first black governor.

The commission’s acceptance of the settlement came as federal prosecutors appear to be looking at potential “misuse or misreporting” of campaign money tied to the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial nominee.

While the campaign money is unrelated to the ethics case, the Tampa Bay Times has reported that a subpoena has been issued. The full scope of the federal probe remains unclear. Being named in a subpoena does not mean a person is under investigation.

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