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Sansom Charged With Perjury; Odom Indicted

A Leon County grand jury tacked on perjury to the list of charges against former House Speaker Ray Sansom, saying that the Republican lawmaker from Destin lied to the grand jury about plans to build an airport hangar for a Sansom contributor out of state dollars.

The storm around Sansom began last fall after he accepted a vice presidency at Northwest Florida State College, an institution that received millions of dollars during Sansom's tenure as budget chairman, despite lower appropriations to other colleges. There were also revelations that a portion of this money appeared to be earmarked for the construction of an airport hangar that contributor Jay Odom had been trying to build – though it seemed to be passed off in the budget as a classroom building for the college.

The grand jury also indicted Odom Wednesday for official misconduct. Odom “did unlawfully encourage, assist or advise Raymond Edward Sansom and/or James Robert Richburg to actually commit or attempt to commit” unlawful actions related to the steering of state budget money to the college, reads the indictment.

“If you aid, abet, encourage, hire, assist, or otherwise procure a person, you're equally guilty,” State Attorney Willie Meggs said.

Richburg, the former president of Northwest Florida State College, is also under indictment in the case. He was charged with official misconduct and perjury in April.

Meggs said Wednesday that he received information after Sansom's and Richburg's testimony before the grand jury that indicated the pair had lied when it told the jury that the state money was never intended to be used for an airport hangar.

“He testified that the building that was the subject of the grand jury investigation was not intended for private use and/or the increased funding in 2008 to Northwest Florida State College was at the request of the college,” the indictment reads.

Sansom has maintained that he will be vindicated in the end and that he has done nothing wrong. However, dogged by allegations, he stepped aside as speaker of the House in January, elevating Speaker Pro Tempore Larry Cretul of Ocala to the speakership.

Steve Dobson, the lawyer representing Sansom, said the former speaker was anxious to have all the evidence presented to a jury during a trial.

“I don't think it makes our case any more difficult,” Dobson said. “I'm confident that when all the evidence comes in that Ray Sansom will be vindicated. There is a mountain of evidence that the grand jury did not hear.”

Richburg was fired by the Northwest Florida State College Board of Trustees last month and the college also abandoned its plans to build the $6 million hangar.

The grand jury's initial indictment of Sansom and Richburg last month was also a significant indictment of the legislative budget process.

The panel suggested that the entire process was ripe for corruption because the budget chairmen, speaker and Senate President have such discretion over what ends up in the state's ultimate spending plan, sometimes without the input of other members and the public.

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