Grand jury to reconvene, review new evidence on former Florida House Speaker Ray Sansom

Jay Odom was asked to voluntarily testify before the grand jury in April but 
he didn’t show up.

Jay Odom was asked to voluntarily testify before the grand jury in April but he didn’t show up.

TALLAHASSEE — The grand jury that indicted ousted House Speaker Ray Sansom will reconvene Wednesday morning to review evidence that surfaced after the charges were filed in April.

"We've just gotten a few more documents. Probably the ones they didn't want you to see," State Attorney Willie Meggs told the Times. "I just want them to understand and see some things that we've learned."

Meggs declined to say what the documents are other than they are correspondence between the central figures in a controversy that cost Sansom, R-Destin, one of the most powerful political positions in Florida and resulted in the firing of longtime Northwest Florida State College president Bob Richburg.

Both men were indicted on felony charges of official misconduct over $6 million Sansom put in the 2007 state budget for the college. Though the school and Sansom said the project would be an emergency training and operations center, the grand jury concluded it was to benefit a private developer who was building a jet business on the same site at Destin Airport.

A series of reports in the Times showed numerous ties between the college project and developer Jay Odom's plans. At one point, Odom asked the state to pay $6 million for an aircraft hangar he said would be turned over to local officials during a storm or emergency. Sansom has said he was unaware Odom, a major political donor to the Republican Party and Sansom's campaigns, had sought state funding.

But officials have said Odom still planned to make use of the college building — a point Odom and the college have denied. The grand jury felt otherwise and added a perjury charge for Richburg for testifying that there was never discussion to have Odom use the building to store aircraft after the college got the money.

After the charges were filed, Northwest Florida State College trustees voted to abandon the project, which had gone through only the planning stages. The $6 million will be available for the state's other colleges next year. The trustees also fired Richburg, citing a number of recent controversies.

Richburg and Sansom have expressed confidence they will be cleared and their supporters accuse Meggs of being politically motivated.

Meggs, who scoffs at that notion, said the grand jury does not disband until June, so he decided to present the new information during its last scheduled meeting Wednesday. "I have other things they may be interested in," he said.

Neither Richburg nor Sansom will testify as they did previously. "He's not been asked to go," said attorney Steve Dobson, who took over representing Sansom from Peter Antonacci.

That could signal a tighter focus on Odom. He was asked to voluntarily testify before the grand jury in April but did not show up. Meggs did not subpoena him or Richburg or Sansom because doing so would grant them immunity from prosecution.

The grand jury is one of three probes into Sansom's dealings with the small college in Niceville, which hired him to a $110,000 part-time job on the same day last November that he became speaker of the House. Sansom, under fire, quit the position and then was ousted by fellow Republicans as speaker.

The state ethics commission is looking at the circumstances as is the Florida House of Representatives following a citizen complaint. Both could take a while to complete. As of last week, the lawyer hired by the House, Steve Kahn, had been paid $50,000 in services and $1,079 in expenses.

Alex Leary can be reached at aleary@sptimes.com.

Grand jury to reconvene, review new evidence on former Florida House Speaker Ray Sansom 05/24/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 26, 2009 8:03am]

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