Jimmie Gardner, 57, stands accused of one count each of lewd or lascivious touching of a minor 16 or 17 years of age by person 24 years of age or older, battery, and human trafficking for commercial sexual activity of a victim under the age of 18, according to Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office jail records reviewed by Law&Crime.
The alleged victim is a 16-year-old girl, authorities say.
“Our attorneys will prosecute this case as we would any other offender who is alleged to have committed these crimes,” 13th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Susan “Suzy” Lopez said in a statement provided to St. Petersburg, Florida-based CBS affiliate WTSP. “We take these charges very seriously.”
On Nov. 17, just before 2:00 a.m., Gardner “made contact” with the girl and invited her to a hotel room, according to a press release by the Tampa Police Department. The girl accepted the invite, police say.
“Upon arrival at the hotel room, Gardner offered the victim money in exchange for sexual acts,” the press release goes on to say. “The victim initially agreed but later told Gardner that she no longer wanted to engage and he became angry.”
After that, Gardner allegedly told the girl to leave the hotel room, according to law enforcement. Then, they began to argue. The “verbal altercation” eventually “escalated to a physical dispute,” police claim.
“Gardner placed his hands around the victim’s neck, impeding her breathing,” the press release continues. “After the dispute, Gardner left the hotel room and the victim called 911.”
Responding officers found the alleged victim alone, according to law enforcement. Later, as officers were still at the hotel, Gardner turned himself in to a police station near Tampa International Airport.
Gardner was booked at Orient Road Jail and released after posting bail on Nov. 18, Hillsborough County records show.
Police say the investigation is ongoing.
The defendant is the husband of U.S. District Judge Leslie Abrams Gardner.
This is not the first time he has been accused of a sex crime. In 1990, Gardner was wrongfully convicted of sexually assaulting a woman in West Virginia. After nearly 27 years, his conviction was overturned and he was released from prison. After that, he began a career as a youth motivational speaker.
According to his currently-offline website, he worked to share a “positive thinking and resilience with students in secondary school and college, sports teams, churches, and community organizations.”
“Jimmie C. Gardner is a motivational speaker who draws on the values and life lessons he acquired through his childhood, professional baseball career, and wrongful conviction to help others make the most of the challenges and opportunities granted to each of us,” an archived version of the website reads. “By sharing his story, Jimmie encourages others to live their best lives through Spiritual, mental, and physical health.”
The defendant also offered his insight to incarcerated individuals.
“In the beginning, I was very bitter,” Gardner told the Tampa Bay Times in 2017, regarding his wrongful 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.”
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