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Special Investigator Finds Probable Cause for House Review of Sansom Case

A special investigator tasked by the House with looking into allegations that former Speaker Ray Sansom violated House rules has found probable cause to go forward with a legislative review of the complaint.

The finding by the investigator, attorney Steve Kahn, sets the stage for a Select Committee investigation into Sansom’s conduct. The committee will be chaired by Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton.

A private citizen, Susan Smith of Odessa, alleged in January that Sansom, a Republican from Destin, violated House rules that require members to perform with integrity and comport themselves in a way that “promotes public confidence in the integrity” of the House.

Kahn found probable cause that Sansom’s dealings with Northwest Florida State College have damaged the “faith and integrity” of the House. In a 79-page report released Friday, Kahn said that Sansom’s role in the creation of a leadership institute at the college and his subsequent hiring at the college, in particular, created the appearance of misuse of his position.

“It is my view that a reasonable person would conclude that his employment was designed primarily to take advantage of his position as Speaker to the benefit of the college and the salary was direct compensation for Representative Sansom's official acts as a member and Speaker on behalf of the college and its President,” Kahn wrote. That could reasonably have caused Smith to lose confidence and faith in the House, he said.

Kahn also said there was probable cause for the House panel to investigate whether the integrity rule was violated when Sansom got an airplane hangar for a longtime associate and donor into the budget, and by a meeting of the college’s board of trustees at which Sansom appeared that seems to have violated the Sunshine laws.

The report emphasized that a finding of probable cause isn’t a finding that a violation occurred – only that there was sufficient cause to put that question to the investigative committee.

The review by the special committee could result in sanctions for Sansom, including dismissal from the House. The report by Kahn was released by House Speaker Larry Cretul, R-Ocala, without comment.

The report detailed how Sansom helped steer more than $25 million to the college for the leadership institute, before he was hired by college President Bob Richburg to a new vice president’s position right around the time Sansom ascended to the speakership.

The $6 million for the hangar was also placed in the budget by Sansom and Kahn detailed ways in which it appeared to benefit Jay Odom, who according to state records over the years made several donations through various companies to Sansom or to Republican Party events featuring Sansom.

In addition to the House probe, Sansom has been indicted by a Leon County grand jury in connection with the case. He also was hit with a complaint before the Florida Ethics Commission. Richburg and Odom have also been indicted.

All three have professed their innocence through attorneys. Sansom’s lawyer, Stephen Dobson, has repeatedly said that Sansom will be vindicated.

But Kahn wrote that he found that by most measures there was “the appearance that Rep. Sansom's employment was a quid pro quo for (1) his past services to the college and (2) the probability that as the new speaker he would continue to perform similar services for the college.”

Kahn wrote that initially those involved in the case – including Sansom – spoke to him, but after Sansom was indicted, he declined to talk to Kahn about the case further. Richburg also spoke with Kahn at first, but stopped answering questions after the indictment.

Odom’s attorney has voluntarily provided information, but Kahn wrote that Odom wasn’t made available and his attorney said that if the House subpoenaed Odom he would only appear if granted immunity.

Former Sen. Lisa Carlton, a Republican from Osprey who was Sansom’s counterpart in the budget conference of 2007, also declined to speak to Kahn.

House Democratic Leader Franklin Sands of Weston said in a statement that he was “saddened” by the findings and looked forward to reviewing the select committee’s findings.

In addition to Galvano, Cretul appointed to the special committee: Rep. Faye Culp, R-Tampa, Rep. Joe Gibbons, D-Hallandale Beach, Rep. Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City and Rep. Ari Porth, D-Coral Springs.

Sansom, 46, stepped down as speaker earlier this year, citing the investigation.

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