TALLAHASSEE — In a courtroom within sight of the Capitol where he once reigned supreme, former House Speaker Ray Sansom and two co-defendants asked a judge Wednesday to drop criminal charges against them for a second time.
Circuit Judge Terry Lewis of Leon County did not indicate when he would rule on the request by Sansom, Destin developer Jay Odom and Bob Richburg, former president of Northwest Florida State College.
Their attorneys sharply criticized a decision by State Attorney Willie Meggs to file charges of grand theft and conspiracy to commit grand theft against them in connection with Sansom securing $6 million for a college building in Destin while he served as chairman of the House Budget Committee in 2007.
The new charges came from Meggs after Lewis dropped official misconduct charges against all three men in October.
In legislative documents, the project was known as the "Okaloosa Joint Use Emergency Response Workforce Center," but Meggs told the judge in court: "This was a misrepresented project from day one."
Meggs says that the three men conspired on a plan to allow the building to be used as a hangar so that Odom, a Sansom political ally and longtime campaign contributor, could store planes there.
"It's really frustrating for us, because the state just says to the press, 'It's a hangar for Jay Odom,' " said Sansom's attorney, Steve Dobson, "when in fact it is just what the Legislature said … you can't falsify a legislative appropriation."
Meggs responded that e-mails and other evidence clearly showed an intent to "use or obtain" state property for private use.
"The crime of theft occurred," Meggs said. "There was an intent to use property under false pretenses." He urged the judge to let the charges stand and allow a jury to weigh the facts and judge the three men's innocence or guilt.
Odom's attorney, Larry Simpson, attacked Meggs' allegation that the case involved a theft of "U.S. currency" and attacked Meggs' decision to file charges a second time.
"What Mr. Meggs has done is re-package an official misconduct case and present it as grand theft under the same identical facts," Simpson told the judge. "Nothing has really changed. He's just calling it something different."
Meggs mocked the notion that the building could store up to 40 sheriff's patrol cars during a hurricane, as some witnesses have asserted in pretrial statements. He said he called acting Okaloosa County Sheriff Ed Spooner, an old friend, who told him that 23 deputies are assigned to protect Destin.
"Do you give them all two cars?" Meggs said he asked Spooner, who according to the prosecutor replied: "I'm not storing any cars down there." Meggs also told the judge that Okaloosa County has an acting sheriff because the last sheriff "is in the penitentiary for theft. I just thought that was important for the court to know."
Sansom, Odom and Richburg sat in separate places during the hearing, which lasted more than an hour.
Sansom, who resigned his House seat in February to avoid a legislative ethics inquiry, referred questions to Dobson, but he seemed in good spirits, smiling and making small talk about the legislative session in its final days just across the street.
Steve Bousquet can be reached at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263.