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Sansom denies wrongdoing, asks House investigators to wait

Ousted House Speaker Ray Sansom insists he did not misuse his position when he funneled tens of millions of dollars to a state college that later hired him, but he wants a legislative panel to delay its investigation until after his criminal trial.

"Representative Sansom denies all of the probable cause allegations" outlined in a report by an investigator hired by the House, reads a letter delivered Friday to Rep. Bill Galvano, the Bradenton Republican who will oversee the tribunal.

The Destin Republican is scheduled to go to trial as early as Sept. 29 on felony charges stemming from a $6 million airport project he secured for Northwest Florida State College. A grand jury — and the House investigator — concluded that Sansom's friend Jay Odom planned to use the hangar-like building to store aircraft as part of his private airport business.

"Representative Sansom looks forward to cooperating with the committee," the letter to Galvano reads. But lawyer Richard Coates said most of the material and witnesses are part of the criminal proceeding.

Galvano said Friday that he still intends to convene the five-member House panel, which includes three Republicans and two Democrats, on Aug. 4. But he said in-depth hearings would likely be put off.

"In order to really do our business, we have to hear from Rep. Sansom," Galvano said.

The panel could clear Sansom or recommend the House take action, including removing him from office.

Sansom took a $110,000 job at the college on the same day last November that he was sworn in as House speaker. An investigation by the St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald Tallahassee Bureau showed that in the two years prior he steered $35 million in extra or accelerated construction funding to the school and did other favors for its president, Bob Richburg, who also has been indicted, along with Odom.

The Times/Herald reported numerous similarities between an airport hangar Odom had wanted and the college's building at Destin Airport, which the school said would be used as an emergency training and response center. Since then, numerous records made public by the grand jury have amplified the connection between the projects. In one e-mail just before Sansom added the $6 million to the state budget in spring 2007, Richburg discusses how Odom would use part of the public building.

The House investigation looked into the airport project, which has since been scrapped, and two other issues:

The House was critical of Sansom for securing millions for a "leadership institute" at the school that he was to oversee as a college employee, as well as a secretive meeting Sansom and Richburg set up with the college trustees in Tallahassee, 150 miles from the college campus in Okaloosa County. The trustees are supposed to meet in public.

Alex Leary can be reached at leary@sptimes.com

Sansom denies wrongdoing, asks House investigators to wait 07/24/09 [Last modified: Friday, July 24, 2009 11:09pm]
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