Well-connected youth motivational speaker faces trafficking charges

Tampa native and connected youth motivational speaker Jimmie Gardner, 57, was arrested in Florida and accused of being involved in sexual acts with a 16-year-old teenage girl in a hotel room.

Atlanta media reported that Gardner is the brother-in-law of former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, who ran for office twice. He is also married to Georgia Federal Judge Leslie Abrams Gardner.

The Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office said police arrested Gardner in Tampa after he invited the young teen to the hotel room for sex in the early morning hours on Friday. He now faced human trafficking charges along with charges of lewd or lascivious touching of a minor and at least one battery charge.

Reports say police accused Gardner of offering the 16-year-old money in exchange for sex and said the interaction involved an act of violence.

The young teenager reportedly called 911 after the interaction, before Gardner departed the scene before police arrived. He was arrested soon after, according to reports citing jail records.

Recent Florida legislation further solidified lawmakers efforts to have various offenses fall under the charge of human trafficking in the state, as lawmakers said, “Thousands of victims are trafficked annually across international borders worldwide.”

The statue’s language defines “human trafficking” as “transporting, soliciting, recruiting, harboring, providing, enticing, maintaining, purchasing, patronizing, procuring, or obtaining another person for the purpose of exploitation of that person.”

Atlanta’s WSB-TV reported that in 1990, Gardner was found to have been wrongfully convicted for allegations that he sexually assaulted an elderly woman in West Virginia. He served 26 years in prison before the charges were vacated, and he was released in 2016.

Florida State Attorney Suzy Lopez said, “Everyone is entitled to the presumption of innocence.”

Gardner was once drafted by the Chicago Cubs and played four seasons in minor league baseball. He enrolled in a university program while playing in the minor leagues to study business management in Tampa.

Gardner spent time as an advocate for the wrongfully imprisoned, speaking about issues of social justice.