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Prosecutor: Court decision hurts his case against Sansom

An appellate court on Thursday sent the criminal case against state Rep. Ray Sansom back to a lower court, where a prosecutor acknowledged his case is weakened and he may not have enough to proceed.

Sansom, R-Destin, is accused of inserting $6 million into the 2007 state budget for a building at Destin Airport that a private developer wanted to use to store aircraft.

In October, a circuit judge in Tallahassee dismissed part of an official misconduct charge against the former House speaker, saying the charge was unconstitutional and overly broad. A perjury charge was left untouched.

The state appealed the lower court's decision. Defense attorneys objected because part of the case still existed in the lower court. On Thursday, the 1st District Court of Appeal agreed.

The developer and the president of the college where Sansom directed the funding were also charged with official misconduct, so Thursday's order relates to them, too.

"Plainly, the circuit court's order here does not dismiss an indictment or any count thereof, and because there is otherwise no statutory authority for the state to appeal in this circumstance, we are without jurisdiction," read the ruling.

While the appellate court did not address the details of the charge against Sansom, its action left State Attorney Willie Meggs unsure how to proceed.

Meggs said the remaining part of the official misconduct charge is weak on its own because it is part of a larger picture on how Sansom used his influence to obtain funding for the project at Destin Airport.

"There's no case there," Meggs said.

Still at issue is a budget document from 2007 that Meggs contends shows Sansom intended all along to use state money to put a building at Destin Airport, where developer Jay Odom has a corporate jet business.

The margin note, with the initials of Sansom's top aide Mike Hansen, said "per S.D. (speaker designate) to fund." A circled number 1 meant it was Sansom's top priority.

When the item appeared in the budget, there was no mention of the airport.

Meggs said that document is "just part of the proof of the misappropriation of money."

Sansom attorney Steve Dobson said no one knows who created the document or where it came from.

He said Thursday that he was confident Sansom had done nothing wrong and added that a different budget document used by Gov. Charlie Crist to evaluate vetoes bolstered Sansom's case because it included a reference to the airport. There was no indication, however, of Odom's interest in the taxpayer-funded facility.

Meggs said he needed a few days to assess his options, but fretted that his case was hobbled.

The circuit court did leave in tact a perjury charge against Sansom, who allegedly lied to the grand jury about his dealings with Northwest Florida State College. Sansom had directed millions to the college before taking a six-figure job there on the same day in he was sworn in as speaker.

The perjury charge was based on documents that surfaced amid the criminal investigation, including an e-mail that then-college president Bob Richburg sent to Sansom before the money was appropriated. The message — with a subject line "Meeting with Jay — outlined a plan for a building and indicated Odom would use part of the space.

"Jay and I agreed that the project is to be held close until after your actions and until after we receive guidance from you," Richburg wrote.

Sansom's attorney said there is no evidence Sansom read the message.

Later this month, Sansom is expected to face a trial of sorts in the House over the same allegations and others stemming from his dealings with the college.

In dismissing part of the criminal case in October, Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis suggested the Legislature was the proper venue to investigate.

"Based upon their findings, one can understand the frustration and indignation apparent in the presentment of the grand jury," Lewis wrote. "It is also natural to want to punish those involved.

"But not every wrongful conduct is a crime. Sometimes the remedy for such conduct must be political rather than judicial. This is one of those situations."

Prosecutor: Court decision hurts his case against Sansom 12/31/09 [Last modified: Monday, January 4, 2010 2:16pm]
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