TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – A Leon County grand jury has cleared Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum after an investigation into whether software purchased with tax dollars was used for political purposes.
The 11-page grand jury report, dated Monday, ends a months-long probe involving Gillum’s actions as Tallahassee mayor. But the city government continues to be embroiled in a broader FBI investigation that threatens to damage Gillum’s gubernatorial bid.
Gillum’s campaign touted the release Tuesday of the grand-jury report, which is unrelated to the FBI investigation.
“Today’s announcement makes clear what we have said for months — the mayor did nothing illegal and he has been the victim of a vicious smear campaign by those threatened by the most viable progressive campaign in Florida history,” Gillum campaign spokesman Geoff Burgan said. “This news should put an end to the smears and return the focus to the issues people care about — affordable health care, good-paying jobs, and social equality.”
The grand-jury report came a little more than five months after prosecutors received a complaint about the use of software produced by the company NGP VAN, which bills itself online as the “leading technology provider to Democratic and progressive campaigns and organizations.” The complaint was filed by Paul Henry, who is a former Florida Highway Patrol trooper, according to the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper.
Gillum used the software while a candidate for Tallahassee city commission and later mayor, paying for it out of campaign funds, the grand-jury report said. But from January 2016 to January 2016, Gillum’s mayoral chief of staff directed that city money be used to pay for the software, at a cost of $4,965.
After the complaint was filed with prosecutors, a Leon County detective investigated and determined that the software was used to distribute 106 emails on behalf of Gillum, with four qualifying as “political advertisements,” the grand-jury report said. The other 102 emails dealt with community organizations and events.
The grand jury said evidence indicated that Gillum delegated the use of the software to his staff and that he did not have any role in the handful of political emails. Gillum ordered his staff to stop using the software and provided a $5,082 reimbursement to the city, an amount that included a processing fee, on the day Henry filed the complaint.
The report concluded that Gillum did not commit misconduct and that any violation of state law by his staff was “incidental and insufficient to support criminal prosecution.”
While Gillum has been forced to fend off questions about the software, the ongoing FBI investigation could have broader implications for the city — and for his 2018 campaign. While the extent of the FBI investigation is unclear, numerous reports have indicated that it involves development deals. Gillum has said he is not the focus of the investigation.
The News Service of Florida’s Jim Saunders contributed to this report.