The sky is beginning to fall for a number of City of Tallahassee power players, at least the ones not named Andrew Gillum.
So, you might ask yourself, was the deal Gillum struck April 24 with the lightweight Florida Ethics Commission to pay a $5,000 fine in exchange for the commission dropping four of five corruption charges against him maybe the smartest move he'll make all year?
Sure, the former Tallahassee mayor and 2018 Democratic candidate for governor was, as he said, tired of being tied to the FBI investigation of corruption within his administration, but settling for the state's $5,000 penalty and admitting to only one bribery charge might have been strategically made. The federal probe into the widespread corruption in the state capital is expanding, with many of the players surrounding Gillum’s issues now feeling the pressure of federal investigators coming down on them. And because Gillum paid a fine -- never had to come before the Ethics Commission itself -- and was involved in a sting, accepting gifts from lobbyists, the public perception is that he's out of hot water with feds, too.
It's all come just in time. The former mayor can keep his distance from the latest chaos.
The U.S. Department of Justice announced late last week it has delivered a “superseding” round of indictments involving a few of those names mentioned repeatedly over the course of the lengthy investigation. This brings the number the federal grand jury has now returned to a 47-count indictment against suspended Tallahassee City Commissioner Scott Charles Maddox, 51, Tallahassee political consultant Janice Paige Carter-Smith, 54, and businessman John Thomas Burnette, 42, all of Tallahassee, Florida.
The latest adds to the dozens that were initially handed down in December 2018, and includes the addition of John J.T. Burnette. The real estate baron is behind a number of entertainment and business office projects in the Tallahassee area. He also is recognized as the conduit between Maddox (himself a former Tallahassee mayor, and former head of the state Democratic Party) and the undercover FBI investigators.
All three have been forced to turn over passports, and have been instructed not to leave the North Florida region without court approval. Following the new rash of DOJ indictments, Burnette turned himself in to authorities, and faced a judge for his arraignment. After entering his pleas of not guilty to the nine charges he is facing, he opted for the speedy trial, with a date now set for June 17.
Federal prosecutors name Burnette as the man who helped facilitate payments to Maddox from the fictitious company that the undercover sting was positioning. The charges stemming from the probe levied against Burnette include racketeering, mail fraud, extortion, and making false statements.
Investigators have quoted Burnette, in referring to Maddox, as directing the undercover agents not to withhold payment from the former Democrat leader. “He’s a vengeful mother(expletive). Feed a dog for a year, stop feeding the dog, and it gets hungry, he may bite your (expletive) hand off.” Burnette's lawyer denies this, and states his client is fully innocent.
In the lengthy superseding indictment, Andrew Gillum is not named. It remains to be seen if federal investigators will focus in on the former candidate and current CNN personality. The point is, though he has been cleared of four of five of the state ethics charges, he does have the charge of accepting bribes, in the form of Broadway show tickets, from undercover federal agents. At the moment Gillum is looking to be cleared of the latest rash of federal indictments.
Brad Slager, a Fort Lauderdale freelance writer, wrote this story exclusively for Sunshine State News. He writes on politics and the entertainment industry and his stories appear in such publications as RedState and The Federalist.