Thursday, February 22, 2018
Politics

Florida GOP donor Jay Odom indicted on campaign finance fraud charges

TALLAHASSEE — Panhandle developer Jay Odom, the man whose desire for a new airplane hangar led to the downfall of former House Speaker Ray Sansom, has been indicted on federal campaign finance violations.

Odom, 56, of Destin surrendered to U.S. marshals in Pensacola on Tuesday morning and was released pending a trial, scheduled for March 4 before U.S. District Judge Lacey Collier.

The two-count indictment accuses him of laundering more than $10,000 in personal funds in 2007 to reimburse individual contributions to an unnamed presidential candidate identified only as "Candidate A.'' The candidate appears to be Mike Huckabee, according to campaign finance data.

Odom faces a maximum sentence of seven years in prison if convicted of making contributions in the names of others and lying to the Federal Election Commission. The indictment lists 10 separate contributions made to the unnamed candidate in December 2007 but provides only the initials of the donors who were listed in campaign reports. The indictment identifies the people as family members, employees and associates. Odom repaid the donors with cash and personal checks. During a brief court appearance, Odom was instructed not to communicate with any of the donors.

A second charge accuses Odom of making false statements that caused a fraudulent 2008 campaign report to be filed with federal officials.

Federal law limits the amounts that can be contributed to individual candidates in an effort to limit the influence that any one person can have on an election. In 2007 the limit was $2,300. The indictment indicates that Odom contributed $23,000 using the names of 10 other people.

The indictment stems from an investigation by the FBI and the Public Integrity Section of the U.S. Department of Justice. The new indictment, dated Jan. 15, supersedes an earlier indictment returned in November. Those charges involved transactions that occurred before a five-year statute of limitations elapsed Dec. 31 and were repeated in the new indictment, which includes actions taken in January 2008, according to a spokesman for Assistant U.S. Attorney Randal J. Hensel and trial attorney Brian K. Kidd.

Tallahassee lawyer Jimmy Judkins represents Odom but did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

Odom and several of his corporations have long been contributors to legislative campaigns and the Republican Party of Florida. He frequently provided his private jet for public officials and candidates to travel as well. From 1998-2008, Odom contributed more than $1.3 million to various candidates, mostly Republicans.

Odom was indicted in 2009 with Sansom and Northwest Florida State College president Bob Richburg on charges stemming from Sansom's inclusion of a $6 million appropriation in state school construction funds to build a hangar for Odom's business, Destin Jet. The charges were dropped mid trial by State Attorney Willie Meggs in 2011 after a judge limited the evidence that could be used against the three men. Sansom has since sued Meggs and the state seeking more than $800,000 for legal expenses.

Sansom's problems began on the day he was officially sworn in as speaker of the House in November 2008 when he accepted a job at the college, a move heavily criticized by his fellow lawmakers and others. He resigned as speaker in early 2009 before legislators began their annual session. The unadvertised job had been offered to Sansom after he funneled more than $35 million in construction funds to the college.

Odom has long had political influence in Tallahassee. Before Sansom successfully got millions of state dollars allocated for his hangar, a similar request was submitted by Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville. Gaetz is now president of the Senate and pressing for strong new ethical restrictions on public officials.

Gaetz said he learned of the indictment on Tuesday but did not know what it said. After a reporter read it to him, Gaetz described his relationship to Odom as distant. Odom contributed $500 to his 2006 Senate campaign; he was hardly a close ally, Gaetz said. Odom's corporations contributed an additional $2,000 in 2008 according to state campaign records.

"He's a well-known business person in Northwest Florida," Gaetz said. "He's not a close personal friend. I'd expect anyone in business in Okaloosa County probably knows Jay Odom."

Gaetz said he made the request for the hangar money because the Destin City Council and the mayor there requested it. "I never discussed (the request) with Jay Odom," Gaetz said.

Times/Herald staff writer Michael Van Sickler and Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

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