THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA: State Attorney Meggs wants trial set for Sansom

Jun 16, 2010

The following article was published by The News Service of Florida on June 16, 2010:


THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, June 16, 2010…..State Attorney Willie Meggs urged a Leon County judge on Wednesday to set a trial date for former House Speaker Ray Sansom and others facing felony theft charges for steering $6 million in taxpayer money to a Panhandle college for an airport project sought by a prominent Republican Party donor.

Attorneys for Sansom, contributor and Okaloosa County developer Jay Odom and former Northwest Florida State College President Bob Richburg are asking Circuit Judge Terry Lewis to dismiss grand theft and conspiracy charges saying the $6 million budget allocation was used for a building intended for use as a regional emergency operations center.

Meggs, the Tallahasssee-area state attorney, said the college building included in the 2007 budget instead was planned as an airplane hangar for Odom, a personal friend and Sansom contributor.

“What we have here is them misconstruing and misrepresenting what the facts are,” said Meggs, who urged Lewis also to halt defense motions he said were designed chiefly to slow the case and keep a jury from hearing charges against the men.

“From the start, these three men were in a conspiracy to build a building,” Meggs told the court.

Lewis said he expects to rule in coming weeks. The next hearing in the case is scheduled for July 29.

But Sansom attorney Stephen Dobson said the charges should be dismissed since Meggs has failed to so far make a case that the college joint-use building – whose funding was later halted by Gov. Charlie Crist – did not serve a public purpose and had been sought-after by college and community leaders.

“There is no question,” Dobson said. “They have not offered one single piece of evidence that this was de minimis as a public purpose or that the public was denied a benefit.”

Sansom, a Destin Republican, stepped down as House speaker after the building controversy was exposed and he resigned from a $110,000-a-year vice presidency at Northwest Florida State which he’d been given as he began what turned out to be a brief tenure as speaker. When the building money was earmarked for the college, Sansom was budget chairman and also helped pour $35 million in accelerated funding to the school.

Lewis last year threw out misconduct and perjury charges, representing the majority of the case against Sansom, Richburg and Odom. But the prospect of the remaining case going to trial includes political shading, with Sansom’s alleged offenses having occurred while he served under former House Speaker Marco Rubio, now the presumptive Republican nominee for U.S. Senate.

Arguments in the Sansom case, underway for two years, have grown familiar. And Wednesday’s hearing again pivoted on the enduring question of whether Sansom was looking primarily to help his district, or a crony.

“Ray Sansom, who has been vilified by the press, was doing something to protect the people of Destin, his community, and that’s something a good legislator does,” Dobson told the court.

But Meggs alleged Sansom merely looted the state’s Pubic Education Construction Outlay (PECO) fund – turning the college and university building account into his personal cash till.

“It became a PECO project when it was put on the list by Ray Sansom,” Meggs said. “It was a Ray Sansom project.”