Miami Herald: Florida prosecutor drops Sansom perjury charge

May 19, 2010

The Miami Herald published the following on May 19, 2010:



Associated Press Writer

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A prosecutor Wednesday said he’s dropping a perjury charge against former Florida House Speaker Ray Sansom, but the criminal case against the ex-lawmaker and two co-defendants will continue on other counts.

State Attorney Willie Meggs announced his decision at a case management conference with Circuit Judge Terry Lewis.

No trial date was set, but Lewis agreed to hear defense motions June 16 and June 18 on the remaining charges of grand theft, conspiracy and official misconduct.

One of the pending motions seeks dismissal of all counts due to prosecutorial misconduct including allegations Meggs had made unethical public comments and illegally released grand jury testimony.

The case stems from a $6 million appropriation that Sansom, a Destin Republican, obtained for Northwest Florida State College. It was allegedly intended to build a hangar for use by a Sansom friend and political supporter at the Destin Airport, about 10 miles from school’s Niceville campus.

Lewis last year dismissed part of a two-pronged perjury charge against Sansom. Meggs said he is withdrawing the remaining part based on new information obtained since a grand jury indicted Sansom, former college president Bob Richburg and Destin businessman Jay Odom.

The remaining element accused Sansom of lying to the grand jury by testifying the college had asked for the airport building. It was based on other testimony indicating no one at the Department of Education, which processes state college building projects, had discussed the matter with Sansom.

“There was in fact a discussion about the acceleration of the funding between the defendant Sansom and the college, not the defendant Sansom and the Department of Education,” Meggs said.

The official misconduct indictment alleged the building was intended for lease to Odom, who owns a jet airplane business, but disguised in the state budget as a classroom building and “Emergency Response Workforce Center” for use by local authorities during hurricanes.

The college later gave Sansom a $110,000 job when he became speaker in November 2008. By the time the 2009 legislative session began, though, Sansom had resigned the college job and given up his speakership after news reports about his generosity toward the school.

Plans for the airport building also were scrapped and Sansom also resigned his House seat earlier this year.

Lewis also last year dismissed one of two elements in the official misconduct charge and a perjury count against Odom. Meggs then added the grand theft and conspiracy charges.

The prosecutor told Lewis he’s not yet sure if he will pursue the remaining portion of official misconduct allegation since the judge Monday denied motions to dismiss the new counts.

Sansom’s lawyer, Stephen Dobson, declined to say if the defense plans to appeal Monday’s ruling, but he said it would lead to more defense motions. He indicated defense lawyers next plan to attack the allegation that the building’s budget description was a sham.

“It was going to be exactly for what it was supposed to be,” Dobson said.