August 06, 2012

Ray Sansom's last word to state: Pay my legal bills

Ray Sansom's career as speaker of the House was one of the shortest in Florida history.

It now appears that it could be one of the most expensive, too.

Sansom, a Republican from Destin, was forced to resign from the Legislature in 2009 after a state prosecutor charged him with conspiracy and grand theft in his dealings as House budget chairman in which he secured millions of tax dollars for a local college that later offered him a job.

His speakership was quickly sidetracked by grand jury proceedings that focused on a budget bounty of $36 million for Northwest Florida State College, which handed Sansom a $110,000 job on the same day he became speaker (he soon resigned). More here.

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June 11, 2011

Federal grand jury questioning aide to Ray Sansom

The FBI has subpoenaed a former aide to Ray Sansom to testify before a grand jury, according to the Northwest Florida Daily News.

The subpoena seeks documents, including travel records. The aide is Samantha Sullivan, who worked for Sansom for seven years he served n the Florida House. She now works for Rep. Matt Gaetz.

Sansom, R-Destin, had faced state corruption charges for a $6 million state appropriation that a developer wanted for an airport hangar. But the case was dropped in mid trial, with prosecutor Willie Meggs saying he could not proceed due to a judge limiting key witness testimony. The FBI has long been investigating aspects of Sansom's political life and association with the developer, Jay Odom.

-- Alex Leary

March 18, 2011

Jury selection gets underway in Ray Sansom case

Jury selection began Friday in the grand theft and conspiracy trial of former House Speaker Ray Sansom and Destin developer Jay Odom. A pool of 21 prospective jurors was brought to Courtroom 3G in the Leon County Courthouse, and at least a half dozen people told Circuit Judge Terry Lewis they knew some details about the case.

The pool of potential jurors includes a lawyer for the Department of Health, a staff member in the Auditor General's office, an attorney for the Florida Electric Cooperatives Association, a high school mathematics teacher and a retired legislative analyst for the Department of Revenue.

The first potential juror questioned was a Florida State University political science professor, who told the lawyers in the case that he knew who Sansom was. But he couldn't recall Odom's name or that of former college president Bob Richburg, who'll be a key prosecution witness, and he said he believed he could set aside his prior knowledge and focus only on the facts in the courtroom.

"I knew there was an issue involving a relationship between the defendants and building an airplane hangar," the professor said, and that it involved a building "partly for emergency supplies or something like that." Asked what he knew about Odom, he called Odom "a donor who had been involved in the speaker-designate's political career" and was a "beneficiary of this building."

Both sides read off a lengthy list of potential witnesses, including former Gov. Charlie Crist, former state Senate President Ken Pruitt, former Sen. Lisa Carlton, state Rep. Matt Gaetz, FEMA director and former state emergency management chief Craig Fugate and state budget director Jerry McDaniel.

-- Steve Bousquet

March 11, 2011

Another sweetheart job deal for Ray Sansom

gary-01.jpgA Fort Walton Beach insurance agent told prosecutors yesterday that he gave Ray Sansom a $7,000-a-month job in 2009 as a favor to developer Jay Odom.

Initially the agent, Gary Paulzak, portrayed it as altruism for Sansom, whose life had been "ruined in every way" by the criminal case against him.

But later in an interview Paulzak, acknowledged that he owed Odom money. "I wasn't forthright," he told prosecutors, who had asked him earlier about the debt. He said he assumed that by hiring Ray, the debt would be "lessened."

Sansom tried to get a license but was denied because he was under indictment by a grand jury, along with Odom and college president Jay Odom. Still, Paulzak continued to pay him $7,000 a month in 2009.

"The thought behind the job was that Ray lost his career, the news had destroyed him, the government was coming after him, and he needed to start a new career," Paulzak said under oath. "I believe that Jay wanted to help him."

Paulzak said he had not met Sansom before he hired him. He was interviewed yesterday by State Attorney Willie Meggs and investigator Jim Anderson yesterday under subpoena. Paulzak said he had been questioned by the FBI and did so under the influence of narcotics.

Photo taken from Paulzak's insurance business website.

Posted by Alex Leary

February 15, 2011

Sansom trial to proceed; 1st DCA rejects appeal

The First District Court of Appeal today denied a petition by former House Speaker Ray Sansom to take up misconduct allegations against Leon County State Attorney Willie Meggs.

Sansom and his co-defendants Jay Odom and Bob Richburg, charged with grand theft for a $6 million airport project Sansom inserted in the 2007 state budget, accused Meggs of misconduct in his actions with a grand jury and the case in general.

Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis found some fault with Meggs but said it fell short of misconduct and denied the motion to throw Meggs off the case. 

So Sansom petitioned the First DCA, causing the state Attorney General's Office to defend Meggs. Today, the appeals court denied Sansom's motion. Sansom's trial is set to begin March 21.

-- Alex Leary

July 29, 2010

Meggs on the stand: 'I will take the punishment'

By turns combative and contrite, veteran Florida prosecutor Willie Meggs told a judge today that he accepts full responsibility for the release of grand jury testimony of ex-House Speaker Ray Sansom and former college president Bob Richburg.

State law limits release of grand jury testimony in a criminal case to only the parties involved, but three newspapers got it, too. Defense lawyers want Meggs thrown off the Sansom case because of prosecutorial misconduct in that instance and others.

Meggs testified that he had 16,000 pages of court documents copied to a disk at a private printing center at the request of defense lawyers, and he inadvertently included the transcripts of Sansom's and Richburg's testimony before they were given to the newspapers on June 20, 2009. He said he immediately contacted St. Petersburg Times reporter Alex Leary and ordered the testimony taken off the paper's website.

"I called Alex Leary," Meggs testified. "I said, 'Take it down,' and he took it down immediately."

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In Sansom case, prosecutor Meggs goes on trial

Former House Speaker Ray Sansom and his two co-defendants were back in court today, but the focus of the hearing is Willie Meggs, the outspoken state attorney who's prosecuting the case. Meggs has been the elected state attorney for the Second Judicial Circuit for 25 years.

Lawyers for all three defendants want Circuit Judge Terry Lewis to dismiss grand theft charges and have Meggs removed from the case because of prosecutorial misconduct, including illegally releasing witnesses' grand jury testimony to reporters and improper questioning of witnesses before grand jurors.

"This is really hard for us, professionally," said Jimmy Judkins, the attorney for Destin developer Jay Odom. "We've had personal relations with Mr. Meggs for 30 years, some of us."

Meggs declined to make an opening statement, and Hank Coxe, the attorney for former Northwest College State College President Bob Richburg, called Meggs as a witness. Sansom's lawyer, Steve Dobson, said the hearing could last for as much as six hours.

Sansom, Odom and Richburg face a felony charge of illegally using tax money from the Legislature to build a college building that Meggs says was to have been used as a hangar for Odom's executive jet business. All three men have denied wrongdoing.

-- Steve Bousquet, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

May 19, 2010

Meggs drops remaining perjury charge on Sansom

State attorney Willie Meggs said he plans to drop the remaining perjury charge against ex-House Speaker Ray Sansom in the case over the $6 million for an airplane hangar at Northwest Florida State College.

Last October, Circuit Judge Terry Lewis dismissed a portion of the two-pronged perjury charge against Sansom. The second portion, which accused Sansom of lying about whether anyone at the school had asked for accelerated state funding, was based on testimony from the Department of Education.

Meggs said at a scheduling hearing Wednesday that further information shows that Sansom and the college discussed the funding. He said that “nullifies” the remaining perjury charge. The next hearing in the case is set for June 16.




May 08, 2010

More juicy details from the GOP credit cards

The unprecedented look at Republican Party of Florida spending in its credit card statements is the gift that keeps on giving. Below find some more questionable expenses and interesting factoids:

Delmar's Valentine's Day trip: Former GOP Executive Director Delmar Johnson resigned Feb. 1. So why did his credit card statement include a four-night stay worth more than a $1,000 at a Courtyard Marriott in West Palm Beach over Valentine's Day weekend? It is possible someone else used Johnson's card, which is what he has said happened frequently, but it's interesting that the party would use the card of an official leaving under a cloud of suspicion. (And don't worry, if Delmar didn't go, he still spent $900 for two nights at Fontainebleau Resort in Miami Beach the week before he left the party.)

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Who spent the most on GOP plastic? Here's the list.

The Republican Party of Florida released 2,452 double-sided pages of credit card statements Friday revealing 31 card holders spent about $7.3 million from January 2007 through March 2010. Below is the list of every card holder and how much they spent. (Do note that the totals only reflect charges starting in 2007, even though many of these officials held American Express cards prior to that date.)

Jim Rimes, former executive director: $2.2 million

Delmar Johnson, former executive director: $1.4 million

Melanie Phister, aide to former Speaker Ray Sansom: $1.2 million

Debbie Bishop, deputy finance director: $694,000

Jim Greer, former chairman: $478,000

Cameron Ulrich, Senate campaigns finance director: $208,000

Carrie Madden, Senate campaigns staffer: $175,000

Ray Sansom, former House speaker: $167,000

Dean Cannon, incoming House speaker: $124,000

Jeremy Collins, special assistant to Greer: $118,000

Continue reading "Who spent the most on GOP plastic? Here's the list." »