Ray Sansom case interview released

Aug 12, 2009

This article was published by the Miami Herald on August 11, 2009

As the political saga involving ousted House Speaker Ray Sansom and a $6 million taxpayer-funded airport building goes on, a Panhandle college has steadfastly maintained that a private developer would not use the facility.

Its proof: A user agreement that states nothing shall be “interpreted as creating a partnership or joint venture” between Northwest Florida State College and the developer.

But state investigators on Tuesday released sworn testimony from a college architect confirming plans to accommodate “multiple aircraft” for the developer’s corporate jet business, next door at Destin Airport. The key: Those plans were agreed to in December 2008 — weeks after the user agreement was signed.

And they were made after Sansom first denied to the Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau any connection between the money he got and Jay Odom, the developer and Sansom’s friend and political contributor.

“Is that an airplane hangar?” Leon County State Attorney’s Office investigator Jim Anderson asked architect Jim Dowling on Aug. 7.

“That area as designed is the staging area for the building but does have the ability and capability to accept aircraft,” Dowling replied.

The recorded interview is one in a series that have been released as Sansom’s criminal trial approaches. He faces felony official misconduct charges for allegedly disguising the project during the state budget process in 2007.

The 47-year-old Destin Republican said he got the money for an emergency operations training and response center. In court papers last week that seek to have the case dropped, Sansom’s lawyer argued that Sansom had no control over the use of the building after getting the money for the college.

Sansom steered $35 million in extra or accelerated money to the college over a two-year period and then, on the same day last November that he was sworn in as speaker, took a $110,000-a-year job at the school. He quit amid statewide controversy and then was ousted as speaker. The college also abandoned the airport building, though it remains the centerpiece of the criminal charges against Sansom.

In an interview Aug. 7, Dowling said the building at Destin Airport also had room for maintenance of aircraft — space Odom needed for his business.

He said he was referring to Destin Jet in his Dec. 4 e-mail to the college detailing additional costs for aircraft storage.

“We were told to include those,” Dowling said.

Other revelations: Dowling said at some point, college officials contacted him to remove references to an airplane “hangar” on plans and replace it with “staging area.”