Tampa police have arrested Jimmie Gardner, the brother-in-law of failed Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, on charges of alleged human trafficking involving a 16-year-old girl.
Mr. Gardner, 57, whose wife is a federal judge and sister to Ms. Abrams, was arrested by Tampa Police on Friday following the incident at the Renaissance Hotel at International Plaza.
The 16-year-old girl told Tampa Police that the incident unfolded around 1:43 a.m. Nov. 17 when Mr. Gardner initiated contact with her and invited her to his hotel room, which she accepted.
Once inside the room, Mr. Gardner allegedly “offered the victim money in exchange for sexual acts,” according to a police news release. Although initially agreeing, the girl later changed her mind, leading Mr. Gardner to react angrily.
“Gardner advised the victim that she needed to leave his hotel room. The two got involved in a verbal altercation that escalated to a physical dispute after Gardner placed his hands around the victim’s neck, impeding her breathing,” the release stated.
After the dispute, Mr. Gardner left the hotel room, and the girl called 911. When officers arrived at the hotel, Mr. Gardner had already left. However, police located the girl.
While police met with the girl, Mr. Gardner turned himself in to the Tampa Police District 1 Office, where he was apprehended.
Authorities connected the girl with the Tampa Police Victim Advocate and other community resources for support.
Mr. Gardner appeared virtually before a judge in a Hillsborough County courtroom on Saturday. Court records show that he is being held on a $500,000 bond.
His lawyer, Jeff Brown, argued that Mr. Gardner, a motivational speaker who was wrongfully imprisoned for 30 years, isn’t a threat to the community.
“He played baseball out of here, he’s well known here, he was down here as a motivational speaker for a seminar,” Mr. Brown told the judge, The Florida Standard reported.
He is currently detained at Orient Road Jail while the investigation remains active.
Federal Judge Leslie Abrams Gardner, Mr. Gardner’s wife since 2018, flew to Tampa to attend the hearing and support her husband.
Judge Abrams Gardner is the sister of ex-Georgia State Representative Abrams, who held office from 2007 until 2017. Ms. Abrams stepped down to pursue the governorship in 2022. Despite coming close to victory in the gubernatorial election, Ms. Abrams narrowly lost to Republican Brian Kemp.
In comments to The Florida Standard, State Attorney Suzy Lopez said: “Everyone is entitled to the presumption of innocence. Our attorneys will prosecute this case as we would any other offender who is alleged to have committed these crimes. We take these charges very seriously.”
The Epoch Times contacted Ms. Lopez’s office for further comment.
Mr. Gardner’s past wrongful conviction in 1987, based on false testimony, was overturned in 2016 after U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Goodwin ordered his release, nearly 30 years later.
Judge Goodwin ordered Mr. Gardner’s release because his conviction was mostly based on false testimony from disgraced West Virginia State Police serologist Fred Zain.
Mr. Gardner was imprisoned after being wrongfully convicted on two separate counts of robbery and sexual assault against two women in West Virginia.
He was granted a $3 million settlement from the state and reached an agreement with the Charleston Police Department in March 2019, settling for $175,000.
According to a press kit, Mr. Gardner has since become a motivational speaker and advocates for wrongfully imprisoned men and women. He is engaged by high schools, colleges, universities, churches, community groups, prisons, and civic organizations.
From The Epoch Times