September 23, 2009

Meggs: Hangar e-mails to Sansom were opened

State Attorney Willie Meggs told Leon County Judge Terry Lewis this morning that he will soon submit discovery evidence showing that e-mails sent to former House Speaker Ray Sansom regarding the $6-million airport hangar sought by developer Jay Odom were in fact opened.

Sansom attorney Steve Dobson recently told Lewis that the state has no evidence to prove Sansom received any such e-mails.

"We keep hearing them say there is no evidence Sansom received those e-mails from (former NW Florida College president) Bob Richburg, but our IT people say they can tell they were received and opened," Meggs said.

Meggs and Dobson appeared before Lewis this morning on Dobson's motion to have the perjury charge against Sansom dismissed. Sansom also faces an official misconduct charge in the case, in which Sansom is accused of working with Richburg and Odom to get money for the building that Odom would partly use for his corporate jet business. Lewis heard from the two attorneys for about 45 minutes while Sansom looked on, but he did not make any promises as to when he might rule on the dismissal motion.

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September 09, 2009

Sansom, Richburg will be tried together, judge rules

IMG_0021 State Rep. Ray Sansom of Destin and former college president Bob Richburg will be tried together Sept. 29 on official misconduct charges, a judge ruled Wednesday, but the two men will be tried separately on perjury charges.

Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis ruled after hearing from lawyers from the two men, who are ensnared in a case involving state tax money appropriated in 2007 for a taxpayer-funded building that prosecutors allege was to have benefited the private business interests of the third defendant, Destin developer Jay Odom.

When State Attorney Willie Meggs asked that all three men be tried together for "judicial economy," lawyers for the defendants objected. They said the grand jury testimony of other defendants would be challenged as hearsay evidence. Hearing that, Meggs said the state would try the cases as the defendants want.

"I have no problem with three trials. None whatsoever," Meggs said. "We could have five trials and that would be just hunky-dory with me."

Sansom, dressed in a blue suit and at times checking his email on his BlackBerry, was in Courtroom 3A in the Leon County Courthouse. He declined to comment after the 40-minute hearing, but appeared to be in good spirits as he waited for an elevator.

As Sansom left court, he referred all questions to his lawyer, Steve Dobson, who reiterated his view that too many people have jumped to the conclusion that Sansom is guilty. "We intend to prove that those allegations are absolutely false," Dobson said.  Asked if Sansom would seek to reclaim his former leadership post of House speaker if he's acquitted, Dobson said: "That will be a decision that will be made when this case is over."    

-- Steve Bousquet

August 22, 2009

Greer on opening up GOP party books: 'No. no. no.'

Republican Party of Florida Jim Greer said everything except not over my dead body to express his opposition to releasing the party's American Express bills in the wake of questions about former House Speaker Ray Sansom's spending.

"No no no,'' he said. "Never as long as I am chairman, and I am tired of talking about it."

Greer said Democrats are spreading false stories about party spending that are designed to hurt the GOP. "I am as tired as you are of reading this garbage...There's nothing inappropriate occurring.''

Yet Greer made a grand gesture by wielding a scissors and cutting up what he said was his own American Express card in front of about 200 party activists.

August 21, 2009

Ray Sansom's greatest (credit card) hits

What's a budget chief to do in tough financial times when he preaches** that Florida should "not spend money we don't have"? Spend someone else's cash, specifically the money that all the Republican Party of Florida donors ponied up to influence the process.

Top 5 vendors:

Cingular/ATT  $22,386.16
Enterprise  $13,392.19
Delta Airlines  $12,659.66
Best Buy  $11,475.15
Friendly Florist  $  8,993.97

Top 5 expense types

Hotel  $    43,555.05
Air  $    30,156.14
Food  $    22,970.18
Car  $    19,964.42
Phone  $    13,614.38

Top 5 cities

Destin  $33,023.06
Tallahasse  $23,749.00
Fort Walton Beach  $11,242.94
Chicago  $10,828.77
Orlando  $  6,011.59

** Note: Sansom made the statement while he was budget chief (and before he became House Speaker and then indicted former House Speaker)

August 04, 2009

Sansom hearing breaks the 'R.H.I.P.' code

At the first House hearing in the Ray Sansom case Tuesday, special investigator Steve Kahn laid out the case against the Destin Republican, and speculated that Sansom's defense might consist of "R.H.I.P.," or "rank has its privileges."

Kahn's report found probable cause that in three cases, Sansom's actions could reasonably have caused the public "to lose faith and confidence in the integrity" of the House. They involved a job for Sansom at Northwest Florida State College, the construction of an airport hangar with tax dollars, and a college trustees meeting that was held at a private site in Tallahassee, 150 miles from the college.

"Now whether Rep. Sansom will rely on plain old R.H.I.P. or the theory that that's how it's always been done around here for as long as anyone remembers ... I don't know at this point," Kahn told the Select Committee on Standards of Conduct. 

Rep. Faye Culp, R-Tampa, didn't know what R.H.I.P. stood for, but another panel member, Rep. Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City, was happy to oblige. A retired career Air Force officer, Glorioso looked down the dais at Culp and said, "Rank has its privileges. Military term."

Kahn also painted a devastating picture of Bob Richburg, the college's president, who like Sansom and real estate developer Jay Odom faces criminal charges in the case. Kahn emphasized to the committee that the paper trail of emails between RIchburg and Sansom shows the two men were discussing a job for Sansom at least three months sooner than Richburg acknowledged.

"Discussion of the details of employment began in earnest in the month after the 2008 regular session ended, and not in August or September as I was told by President Richburg," Kahn said.   

-- Steve Bousquet

House probe of Rep. Sansom gets underway

A five-member House committee met for the first time Tuesday to consider a complaint against Rep. Ray Sansom of Destin, the former speaker whose dealings with a hometown college and the state budget have produced an indictment on three felony counts.

After the panel's staff summarized the case against Sansom, the select committee's first official action was to vote unanimously to hire an independent counsel in the coming weeks, who will guide the panel through its deliberations. In a January complaint, Susan Smith of Odessa alleged that Sansom had, in three cases, voilated House rules through his dealings with Northwest Florida State College in Niceville, which she said had greatly diminished the public's respect for the House as an institution. 

The committee, formally called the Select Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, is chaired by Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton. Other Republican members are Reps. Faye Culp of Tampa and Rich Glorioso of Plant City; the Democratic members are Reps. Joe Gibbons of Hallandale Beach and Ari Porth of Coral Springs. The panel was appointed by House Speaker Larry Cretul in June after special investigator Steve Kahn, a former Senate general counsel, found probable cause that Sansom had violated House rules.

Sansom has filed a general denial of the charges against him. He is not present at the hearing, and is represented by Tallahassee lawyer Richard Coates.

-- Steve Bousquet

July 29, 2009

Sanson legislative panel to begin Tuesday

Rep. Bill Galvano, chair of the select committee investigating Ray Sansom's dealings with Northwest Florida State College, announced today that the first hearing will begin 9 a.m. Tuesday.

The hearing is scheduled for four hours, though it's unclear how much work the five-member panel will be able to do given a request from Sansom that the proceedings be delayed until after his criminal trial.

Galvano said last week that it's reasonable to grant a delay but he also said some work could proceed. More here.

-- Alex Leary

July 23, 2009

Governor tells Sansom's college to pay up

Remember Gov. Charlie Crist's demand that Northwest Florida State College repay the money spent on the controversial Destin Airport building? Well, several months later, the college has not paid up.

Gov. Crist's budget director Jerry McDaniel called trustee chairman Wesley Wilkerson last week and followed up with a letter two days ago asking for the $310,000. (That's how much the college used of the $6 million PECO project secured by Rep. Ray Sansom.)

"We would ask that this source of funds have no adverse consequences to students," McDaniel wrote. "Please forward a check made out to the state of Florida, to my attention as soon as possible."

The trustees abandoned the building project when it became a key component in the criminal case against Sansom, ex-college president Bob Richburg and developer Jay Odom. But the trustees were hoping that the state would just cut a future PECO project by $310,000. No way, McDaniel says.

-- Alex Leary

July 17, 2009

Sansom hearings set for Aug. 4

House Rules Chairman Bill Galvano said he is sending out a letter to lawmakers today setting the first legislative hearing into Rep. Ray Sansom's dealings with Northwest Florida State College for Aug. 4, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

 "We will be requesting that Rep. Sansom respond to the complaint at the Aug. 4 meeting,'' said Galvano, R-Bradenton. The letter says: "A brief statement either admitting or denying the allegations in the complaint is all that is necessary at this time.''

The organizational meeting will "review where we are and how we're going to proceed from here," he said.

Sansom must face an investigation from his peers after an investigator found probable cause that he damaged "faith and confidence" in the Florida House. The findings are based on Sansom's funneling millions of taxpayer dollrs to the Panhandle college and his role in funding an airport building wanted by a private developer. The panel could recommend sanctions, such as a fine or removal from office. Download Letter to Sansom (Aug 4)

April 17, 2009

Lawmakers surprised, saddened by indictment

House members returned to a floor session on the budget Friday afternoon when the news of Rep. Ray Sansom's indictment broke. The first few who were available to speak had not yet seen the grand jury's 10-page report, which also is highly critical of the power of special interest money in the Capitol and the high level of secrecy that surrounds the budget process.

Members of both parties expressed sympathy for Sansom and his family.

"I think we're a little taken aback. Nobody expected it," said Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City. Told of the report's criticism of the secrecy of the appropriations process, the second-term lawmaker said: "I can understand where public opinion would find that type of concern." He cited instances in which lawmakers are asked to vote on 50- or 60-page rewrites of complex bills, referred to as strike-all amendments. 

"Ray Sansom is a friend and I feel for him and his family," said Rep. Bill Galvano, the Bradenton Republican who was Sansom's most serious rival for the speakership he had to forfeit. Galvano, a lawyer, said when grand juries are convened, "they will more often than not bring forth an indictment." 

"We're trying not to make it a focus in there. It's just sad," said Rep. Janet Long, D-Seminole. "But there's a difference between being indicted and being convicted."

"Everybody's reading the blogs, but nobody's talking about it very much," said Rep. Ron Saunders, D-Key West. "I think they're surprised by the severity of the charges. We're trying to tell people than an indictment is not a conviction."

-- Steve Bousquet