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The tale of the trail left by e-mail and evidence

Here is the annotated paper trail of the dealings among a onetime House speaker, a college president and a developer. It begins with a proposal to use $6 million in tax dollars to put up a private airport building and ends with their indictments. To read each of these items in detail, click on the links.

Who's Who: Sansom: Sansom: State Rep. Ray Sansom, Republican from Destin; Richburg: Bob Richburg, former president of Northwest Florida State College; Odom: Jay Odom, owner of Destin Jet, Sansom contributor

Jan. 2, 2007: What it is: Minutes from the Jan. 2, 2007, meeting of the Destin City Council, which supported Odom’s plan to request $6 million in state funding for an airport building. Odom’s proposal: an aircraft hangar for his company that would double as a staging area for emergency workers during hurricane strikes. What it means: Before Sansom and Richburg ever talked publicly about a dual-use airport building, Odom proposed one.

April 3, 2007: What it is: An e-mail from Richburg to Sansom (Odom is copied) talking about the proposal for an Emergency Operations Center/classroom building. Richburg said, “a lease will need to be developed between Odom and the college for Jay to use some of the facility for a commercial (aircraft) maintenance and storage facility. ”What it means: Even before state funding is secured, the major players are planning for Odom’s private jet company to use the building.

April 17, 2007: What it is: A memo to include $6 million in the state budget for a joint-use building. A handwritten note in the margin identifies this as a top request of Sansom, “per S.D.” (speaker designate). What it means: Prosecutors consider this a crucial piece of evidence because it specifies that the project be at Destin Airport. The location was omitted from the formal budget entry and prosecutors say that shows Sansom was concealing the true purpose of the building.

May 2007: What it is: The line item budget showing $6 million for the joint-use project.

May 31, 2007: What it is: An e-mail from Jill White, senior vice president of Northwest Florida State College, to Richburg about courses that could be offered at the Destin Airport building. “If we don’t really have to commit to doing the programs right now, I think we could legitimately list the following ...” What it means: Taxpayer money is committed before the college knows what courses it might offer at the Destin Airport facility. White notes that the Destin program will overlap with classes offered at a new emergency training center being built on the school’s Niceville campus. “I doubt we can sustain classes for those programs in both Niceville and Destin, and Niceville will draw a larger audience.”

April 7, 2008: What it is: An e-mail exchange between Richburg and Odom as they finalize the lease agreement for the land, which Odom controls, where the college planned the building. Richburg tells Odom, “Whereas we are committed to the idea of leasing unused space back to you, we need to see how the square footage works out in the planning.” The lease includes a clause saying the agreement should not be considered a partnership with Odom’s company, which Richburg says proves Odom couldn’t have run his business there. Prosecutors disagree. What it means: Reinforces the point that letting Odom use a portion of the building was a central part of the discussion throughout development of the building.

September 2008: What it is: A report from Kendrick David Dowling Architects, Inc. describing plans for the school’s airport building. What it means: Prosecutors focused on this report. While the school made public denials about Odom’s connection, its architect was designing a building to suit aircraft. Example, “thicken floor for aircraft storage and vehicle storage.” Prosecutors also note the 30,700-square-foot building devotes just under 9,000 square feet to business/educational use.

Nov. 18, 2008: Sansom is named speaker of the Florida House, having been designated so by a vote of his colleagues two years earlier. Also on this day, Sansom accepts a position with Northwest Florida State College as a part-time administrator earning $110,000 per year.

Dec. 7, 2008: The St. Petersburg Times and Miami Herald publish a story pointing out the many similarities between the $6 million airport project Odom proposed and the $6 million airport project for the school. Sansom denied an Odom connection. “It doesn’t benefit him at all. He wasn’t involved with me. I worked with the college.”
College officials said there is “no agreement” for Odom to use the building.

Dec. 4, 2008: What it is: An e-mail exchange between the airport building architect and a top college administrator. The school official says “OK, thanks,” when the architect says, “We have it confirmed by the user of the Staging area that multiple aircraft will be stored, therefore we are required to add floor trench drains, slope the floor, and add a gas intercept in the line by code.” What it means: While Sansom and college officials had told a Times/Herald reporter for the Dec. 7 story that Odom’s jets wouldn’t be stored in the building, plans were moving forward to accommodate that very thing.

Dec. 8, 2008: What it is: An e-mail from college spokeswoman Sylvia Bryan to a television reporter in the Panhandle, who asked about the airport building following the Times/Herald report.
What it means: The college wasn’t being open with the public about plans for the building. Bryan offers “background” information that omits the plans for jet storage that clearly were in the works.

Jan. 5, 2009: Sansom resigns from his part-time position with the college. “I accepted my position at the college with pure intentions and for good reasons. Unfortunately, some have disagreed with my decision. While I do not question their motives, I strongly object to their conclusions.”

Jan. 15, 2009: What it is: An e-mail exchange between a Times/Herald reporter and Richburg about whether Odom would be using the taxpayer-funded school building. Richburg said: “From the moment the Legislature appropriated funds, this has been a college project and not for private use. ... Contrary to assertions you make in your written articles, there are no plans for aircraft storage, maintenance or any other non-college or non-emergency operations center use of the facility.” What it means: At the time of this response from Richburg, records show he participated in multiple e-mail exchanges with Odom and others, including Sansom, about plans to have Odom store aircraft in the school building.

Jan. 20, 2009: The Northwest Florida State College board of trustees discussed the airport project. After the meeting, a Times/Herald reporter asked Richburg to explain the similarities between the school project and Odom’s hangar proposal.

A. “At no point was this project that project. That’s a leap, sir, you’ve never gotten straight in your mind.”
Q: Can you explain how (Odom) approached the state Legislature for $6 million and in the same budget year there was $6 million appropriated by Rep. Sansom. Is it just a coincidence?
A: “I’m not going there anymore.”

Jan 30, 2009: Facing a grand jury investigation, Sansom steps aside as House speaker under pressure from his colleagues in the GOP, who say he cannot run the House while being investigated.

April 17, 2009: A grand jury investigating Sansom’s relationship with Richburg and the college indicts both men on felony charges of official misconduct for falsifying the state budget. Richburg, who was later fired by college trustees, also was charged with perjury for statements he made while testifying before the grand jury. (On May 27, the grand jury reconvened and indicted Odom on similar charges while adding a perjury charge against Sansom.)

June 8, 2009: What it is: A detailed summary of the Sansom investigation as it was presented to the grand jury. It was made public June 19, 2009, when prosecutors provided their evidence to defense attorneys. What it means: The report outlines the full case against Sansom, Richburg and Odom, including previously undisclosed information, given under oath. The grand jury heard:

• The former director of Okaloosa Airports Jerry Sealy said he contacted the FAA about the college building at the airport. “Mr. Sealy told (the FAA) that the Center would house college classrooms as well as storage and maintenance for Destin Jet.”

• A college administrator, Dr. Gary Yancey, said large, hangarlike doors were included on the college building “to accommodate airplanes in the event the College decided to lease that area of the Center.” Yancey said he and Richburg talked about having Destin Jet use space.

• Okaloosa County’s Chief of Emergency Management, Randy McDaniel, said he told college officials “the County did not intend to shelter ambulances or crews within the building (during a storm). Mr. McDaniel stated that their focus was on the EOC in Niceville,” the joint-use facility the state was building on the main campus of Northwest Florida State College.

• Sansom was asked during his testimony if there had been conversations with Odom about Destin Jet’s use of the college building. “Not with me. ... That was never considered. The proposal that I worked with Bob Richburg with the College was for it to be an educational facility for first responder training and a staging area emergency operations center, and not for any private individual to use it.” The April 3, 2007, e-mail from Richburg to Sansom, about needing a lease to let Odom store aircraft, conflicts with Sansom’s testimony.

The tale of the trail left by e-mail and evidence 06/27/09 [Last modified: Sunday, June 28, 2009 3:12am]
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