Jimmie Gardner, a speaker who motivates young people and the brother-in-law of former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, was arrested on charges of human trafficking in Tampa.
Officials reported that the 57-year-old engaged with a 16-year-old girl around 1:43 a.m. on Friday, inviting her to his room at the Renaissance Hotel at International Plaza.
According to investigators, when she arrived, Gardner proposed offering the girl money in exchange for engaging in sexual acts.
“The victim initially agreed but later told Gardner that she no longer wanted to engage, and he became angry,” the Tampa Police Department stated.
Gardner allegedly instructed the girl to leave the hotel room, triggering a verbal dispute. Police state that the argument turned physical when Gardner placed his hands around the girl’s neck, hindering her breathing.
After Gardner exited the hotel room, the girl dialed 911. Law enforcement made contact with the teenager at the hotel, while Gardner went to the Tampa Police District 1 Office, where he was arrested and charged with:
- One felony count of human trafficking for commercial sexual activity involving a victim under 18.
- One felony count of lewd or lascivious touching of a minor.
- One misdemeanor count of battery.
The 16-year-old was linked with a Tampa Police Victim Advocate, and Gardner was booked into the Orient Road Jail.
Although Gardner was born in South Georgia, he spent most of his youth in Florida and was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in 1984.
A few years later, Gardner was convicted in the 1987 sexual assault of two women in West Virginia. He served 27 years in prison for the wrongful conviction until he was exonerated in 2016.
“In the beginning I had rage. I was totally enraged. I spent the first few years in solitary confinement and I was in isolation for approximately 23 months. During those 23 months, I had to soul search. Find out who I am, what I was about,” Gardner said in a 2020 interview.
In 2018, Gardner tied the knot with Leslie Abrams, a Federal Judge in Georgia and the sister of Stacey Abrams, a former gubernatorial candidate in the state. At present, he serves in Georgia as a motivational speaker and emotional intelligence trainer, specifically for individuals with a history of incarceration.
“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,” State Attorney Suzy Lopez stated.