FBI arranged outings for Gillum, others during NYC trip

Jeff Burlew
Tallahassee Democrat
Mayor Andrew Gillum listens to proceedings during Wednesday's CRA meeting at City Hall.

The FBI may have tried to entice Mayor Andrew Gillum through one of his close friends to see a Broadway show, catch a Mets game and stay at a hotel in New York City as part of its investigation into alleged public corruption in Tallahassee.

Gillum, who had room reservations elsewhere, won't say if he stayed at or visited the Millennium Hotel in downtown Manhattan, where an FBI agent posing as a developer had arranged rooms for him and others. He also won’t say if he attended the Broadway blockbuster “Hamilton” or went to the baseball game.

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Gillum’s responses to the Tallahassee Democrat on the trip have evolved over the past week. Acting on information from sources close to the investigation, the Democrat asked Gillum on Aug. 19 about the “Hamilton” show and Mets game and specifically who paid for the tickets.

“I have no knowledge of any of that,” Gillum replied.

Gillum since has refused to give a yes or no answer on whether he took part in any of the outings, claiming that his time spent with undercover FBI agents was “personal.”

“The mayor has already addressed this trip, which was personal and not for city business,” said his chief of staff Dustin Daniels in a text. “Any suggestions of wrongdoing ... are just plain incorrect.”

Our opinion:A simple yes or no could help clear FBI clouds for Mayor Andrew Gillum

Public officials such as Gillum are required to report gifts valued over $100, though there are notable exceptions. Gifts from family members or gifts associated primarily with outside employment or business do not have to be reported.

Officials are barred from accepting any gift given to influence a vote or other official action as well as gifts over $100 from a vendor doing business with their agency or a lobbyist who has come before their agency over the preceding year. Lodging and tickets to events are included in the statutory definition for gifts.

Gillum hasn’t reported receiving any gifts on the New York trip.

The game plan for 'the Crew'

Adam Corey, a lobbyist, close friend of the mayor and a central figure in the FBI’s investigation, sent a Google calendar invitation labeled, “New York Visit with the Crew,” which is what he called his inner circle of friends.

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The invitation, dated Aug. 10-12, 2016, said Mike Miller arranged for outings for Gillum, Corey and Gillum’s brother, Marcus Gillum. Miller is a presumed undercover FBI agent posing as an out-of-town developer interested in spending millions on a mega south-side development.

“Gents, Here is the plan from Mike Miller: We are going to do the Mets game Wednesday night,” Corey wrote in the calendar invite. “My buddy arranged another boat deal for us Thursday afternoon. Also, we have rooms arranged for everyone starting Wednesday night at the Millennial Hilton.”

On Aug. 16, WCTV published a photo showing Gillum, Corey and Miller cruising together in a boat in New York Harbor. Gillum told the TV station he didn’t know at the time that Miller may have been an undercover FBI agent.

In a prepared statement given to the Democrat, Gillum said he was in New York for a business trip with his former employer, the People for the American Way Foundation. He said no city money was spent nor public business discussed on the trip.

Local entrepreneur and co-owner of The Edison restaurant Adam Corey chimes in at a business roundtable discussion.

Gillum said Corey, a longtime friend, invited him to see the Statue of Liberty. He also acknowledged spending time with Miller over the course of nearly a year.

“It was merely friends getting together to sight-see, and as I have been told that I am not the target of the FBI’s investigation, attempts to paint my every relationship as nefarious is reckless and irresponsible,” Gillum said. “I continue to pledge my assistance with the ongoing investigation and encourage others to await the full facts before leaping to conclusions.”

Gillum’s calendar shows he booked a red-eye Delta flight to New York City on Aug. 8, 2016, and had reservations to stay at the Ameritania Hotel in Times Square. The calendar shows he booked a return flight on Delta to Tallahassee the night of Aug. 12, 2016.

On Tuesday, three days after the Democrat initially questioned Gillum, Tallahassee Reports published an article saying Gillum’s trip to New York involved a Mets game and a performance of “Hamilton,” though it didn’t specifically say Gillum attended either. The article also said Miller bought and paid for rooms at the Hilton.

The Democrat asked Gillum in a text about the report on Wednesday morning.

“Haven’t seen the article, but based on what you’re asking, not correct,” replied Gillum, who’s running for Florida governor.

The Democrat then asked: “Just to be clear and specific, you didn’t attend a Mets game or ‘Hamilton’ with Adam and/or Mike Miller?”

Gillum did not answer the question. Rather, he replied: “I can also say that what they’ve said is incorrect. I will have more to say later once the feds conclude their work.”

He would not say specifically what was incorrect, texting, “As I have stated previously, I am not going to get in front of this investigation. I am not the target of this investigation and hope that others will also demonstrate responsibility and appropriate restraint while covering this story. Have a good day.”

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Bugged in the Big Apple?

If Miller did in fact arrange for rooms at the Hilton, it’s quite possible they were bugged.

For decades, the FBI has set up secret cameras in hotel rooms and other meeting places to surveil the activities of public officials.

The FBI used such techniques in a major public corruption probe in San Francisco that led to the conviction of California state Sen. Leland Yee, his close associate Keith Jackson and others. Both were sentenced last year.

One of the undercover agents in the California case, who used the alias "Mike Sweets," appears to have worked with Miller in the Tallahassee investigation, too.

Chris Magaña, one of the lawyers who represented Jackson, recognized Sweets in a photo obtained by the Democrat. He said the man appears to be the same undercover agent he saw in secretly recorded video of his client. Sweets posed out west and in Tallahassee as a businessman trying to become a medical marijuana tycoon.

Magaña said Sweets and other undercover agents posed as out-of-town businessmen and flew into San Francisco every other month or so, staying in four- or five-star hotels. They set up microphones and cameras and invited their targets over for meetings.

“It’s smart on their part because they have the opportunity to get that equipment in place,” said Magaña, who has no inside knowledge of the Tallahassee probe. “It’s just the way they do it. A lot of time what moves the jury is when they see this on video, especially if there’s an exchange of money. Not to be crude, but that’s the money shot.”

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Magaña said undercover agents "ingratiated themselves" into his client's life over a period of years, at one point taking him to Arizona to watch the Cardinals play the San Francisco 49ers from the sideline.

"They wined and dined him," he said.

The FBI investigation in Tallahassee came to light in June after a federal grand jury served subpoenas on City Hall and the Community Redevelopment Agency, demanding records involving eight local business people and a number of their companies. Corey and the city-subsidized Edison restaurant, which he co-owns, were named in the subpoenas.

A former Tallahassee-based FBI agent alluded in April to a recent, major investigation that used covert vehicles, an airplane, undercover operatives and audio and video surveillance. The agent’s name also appeared on the CRA subpoena.

Contact Jeff Burlew at jburlew@tallahassee.com or follow @JeffBurlew on Twitter.