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House Speaker Sansom hires criminal defense attorney

TALLAHASSEE — House Speaker Ray Sansom has hired a prominent criminal defense attorney to represent him in possible state and federal investigations.

Tallahassee lawyer Peter Antonacci said Friday that he has contacted Thomas Kirwin, acting U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Florida, to say he is representing the Destin Republican.

Antonacci also has reached out to State Attorney Willie Meggs, who will ask a grand jury on Monday whether he should launch a formal investigation into Sansom and the job he got at Northwest Florida State College two months ago — on the same day he became speaker.

In both cases, Antonacci would not discuss details of his conversations with the two prosecutors.

Kirwin has refused to comment on reports that his office is investigating.

Sansom, who helped the school get about $35-million in additional or accelerated construction money over the past two years, has steadfastly denied that the $110,000-a-year job was payback.

He has said that he was only looking out for his district, not himself. In the first four years that Sansom was in the Legislature, the small school did not get any additional construction money beyond what was budgeted.

"I didn't see all this as controversy. I saw funding a school in my district as doing my job," Sansom said in an interview Thursday with the St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald Tallahassee Bureau.

Sansom already has hired a well-known Tallahassee attorney, Richard Coates, to handle an ethics complaint filed by a Clearwater man, Dave Plyer. The Commission on Ethics met on Friday, though its proceedings were private.

But Plyer was told that commission staffers have found the complaint legally sufficient. Now, a preliminary investigation of the complaint will be conducted. The commission then has to vote on whether there is probable cause to believe that there has been a violation of ethics law.

The commission will meet again March 6.

Antonacci once worked for Meggs, handling public corruption prosecutions. In recent years, he has become the go-to guy for Republicans in trouble.

In 2002, then-Gov. Jeb Bush called on Antonacci to represent his daughter, Noelle, on charges that she had forged a prescription for Xanax.

Antonacci is currently a senior lawyer in the Tallahassee office of Gray-Robinson, one of Florida's best-known law firms. Antonacci, like Coates, was a lobbyist before the Florida Legislature in 2008.

Alex Leary can be reached at aleary@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

House Speaker Sansom hires criminal defense attorney 01/23/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 28, 2009 12:30pm]
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