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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Sansom expected before grand jury tomorrow



Rep. Ray Sansom is expected to testify tomorrow before a grand jury that has been investigating his ties to Northwest Florida State College. Also expected to appear is Bob Richburg, the college president who hired Sansom to the unadvertised $110,000 job on the same day Sansom became speaker of the House.

Both men were invited to speak but have not been subpoenaed because that would grant them immunity from any prosecution. The grand jury can either hand up indictments, issue a critical report called a presentment or do nothing.

The meetings in Tallahassee are not open, so it's impossible to know where the discussion has gone since the probe began earlier this year. But Sansom has said he's eager to speak. "I feel confident, very confident, that in the end I will come out of this clean," the Destin Republican told reporters in January.

Leon County State Attorney Willie Meggs has called about 10 other witnesses, including House staffer Mike Hansen, Department of Education officials, Okaloosa County airport director Greg Donovan and county emergency management director Ken Wolfe.

It is unclear whether developer Jay Odom will attend, though he too was invited without subpoena.

Sansom and Richburg have defended about $35 million in extra or accelerated construction money the Panhandle college got in the past two years, while Sansom controlled the House budget, as open and transparent appropriations.

They also say $6 million Sansom inserted into the 2007 budget for an emergency operations center was not designed to benefit Odom, who had proposed a taxpayer funded hangar on land he leases at Destin Airport.

Sansom, who stepped down as speaker to deal with various inquiries and then was removed permanently by Republican colleagues, has said he was unaware of Odom's proposal. He said he approached the college with the idea because it filled a public need for an emergency operations center in Destin.

Richburg also says meeting of the college trustees he arranged with Sansom's help at the private FSU University Club did not violate the state's Sunshine Law because the meeting was noticed in a newspaper back in the Panhandle.

[Last modified: Thursday, September 9, 2010 7:36pm]


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