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Grand jury investigating Ray Sansom resumes its work

TALLAHASSEE — A grand jury investigating former House Speaker Ray Sansom's ties to his hometown college as well as a developer resumed work Thursday and is ready to start calling witnesses on April 16.

"Some will be subpoenaed; some will be invited," Leon County State Attorney Willie Meggs said. "It's going to be an interesting day."

Meggs, speaking to reporters as the jurors left the courthouse across from the state Capitol, would not say who will testify.

The testimony will be key in how the grand jury proceeds. It can either hand up indictments, issue a critical report called a presentment or do nothing. Meggs said he thinks the grand jury will be finished with the case by May, at the latest.

The investigation was launched after Sansom, R-Destin, took an unadvertised $110,000 job at Northwest Florida State College. News reports by the Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau showed how in the two years prior, Sansom secured about $35 million in extra or accelerated funding for the small school.

That total included $6 million for an emergency operations and training center at Destin Airport. Sansom added the money late in the budget process, drawing a "turkey" label and veto recommendation from a government watchdog group, TaxWatch.

The project has myriad links to an aircraft hangar Sansom's friend and major Republican donor Jay Odom wanted to build with $6 million in taxpayer money.

Meggs sent one of his investigators, Jim Anderson, across the Panhandle recently to talk with people and collect records. "As the song goes, 'We've been everywhere, man,' " Meggs said.

He expects eight to 10 people will testify on April 16. Sansom and other key figures will likely not be subpoenaed because in doing so, they would be granted immunity from prosecution.

Instead, Meggs would invite them to speak. Sansom has already said he is willing to testify. In the uproar that followed as details were revealed, he quit the college job and then was ousted by fellow Republicans as speaker this month.

Sansom has said the money he secured for the school was in the budget for all lawmakers and Gov. Charlie Crist to see. And he and college president Bob Richburg contend that the airport project was not intended to benefit Odom.

But the Times/Herald has shown various connections between the college building and the hangar project Odom had sought.

Grand jury investigating Ray Sansom resumes its work 03/26/09 [Last modified: Thursday, March 26, 2009 9:50pm]
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