TAMPA, Fla. — The brother-in-law of two-time Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams is accused of inviting a 16-year-old girl to a Florida hotel room and offering to pay for sex, authorities said.
According to Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office online booking records, Jimmie Gardner, 57, was arrested in Tampa on Friday and charged with human trafficking for commercial sexual activity (victim less than 18), lewd or lascivious touching of minor 16 or 17 years of age by person 24 years of age or older, and a misdemeanor count of battery.
Gardner is a youth motivational speaker who was raised by his grand-aunt in Tampa, the Tampa Bay Times reported. He is also the husband of Georgia federal judge Leslie Abrams Gardner, according to WSB-TV.
Authorities said that Jimmie Gardner made contact with the teen at about 1:43 p.m. EST on Friday and allegedly invited her to his room at Tampa’s Renaissance Hotel at International Plaza, WTSP-TV reported.
Investigators said when she arrived, Gardner offered the teen money in exchange for sexual acts, according to the television station. The victim initially agreed but “later told Gardner that she no longer wanted to engage, and he became angry,” the Tampa Police Department wrote in a statement.
The victim alleged that Gardner choked her, and she called 911 after he stopped and she left the room, WSB reported.
Gardner was arrested several hours later, according to the television station.
According to the Office of the State Attorney of the 13th Judicial Circuit, Jimmie Gardner was previously convicted in 1987 for the sexual assault of two women in West Virginia, WFLA-TV reported. He was exonerated 27 years later, in 2016, according to the television station. He married Leslie Abrams two years after his release.
After his release, Gardner has spread a “message of positive thinking and resilience” to high school and college students in the Tampa Bay area and nationwide, according to his website.
“In the beginning, I was very bitter,” Gardner told the Times in a 2017 interview about his conviction. “But I realized the bitterness and anger created all sorts of toxins within me. By the grace of God, I was able to become a better person.”
State Attorney Suzy Lopez said in a statement that “everyone is entitled to the presumption of innocence,” WFLA reported.
“Our attorneys will prosecute this case as we would any other offender who is alleged to have committed these crimes,” Lopez said. “We take these charges very seriously.”
Gardner was released from jail after posting bail on Saturday, online records show.