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Former Prosecutor Named Counsel in Sansom Probe

A House panel investigating former Speaker Ray Sansom appointed an independent counsel to lay out the case against the Destin Republican so that lawmakers can decide if he needs to be politically punished for actions related to his tenure as budget chairman.

Melanie Hines, who was statewide prosecutor under former Attorney General Bob Butterworth, will spend the next few months reviewing whether Sansom acted improperly as budget chairman when he steered millions of dollars to Northwest Florida State College, an institution that later gave him a job and appeared to be building a structure that would house aircrafts for Sansom friend and contributor Jay Odom.

Committee Chair Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said the committee did have other options, but chose to go with Hines, who currently works in private practice for Tallahassee law firm Berger Singerman.

The move comes just days after a Leon County judge dismissed the majority of the charges in a criminal case against Sansom, Odom and former NWFSC President Bob Richburg.

A grand jury indicted Sansom, Odom and Richburg on official misconduct charges this past spring. Sansom and Richburg were also slapped with perjury charges. Judge Terry Lewis gutted the official misconduct charges against the three men, and dismissed Richburg's perjury charge. Sansom's perjury charge still stands.

But House members are investigating a complaint filed by Odessa resident Susan Smith, who said that Sansom's actions damaged the integrity of the House. Smith told the News Service earlier this week that she hopes the results of the criminal prosecution do not affect the House's investigation.

“It doesn't have an impact on the spirit of the way things should be done in the Legislature,” she said. “I hope this really makes the House members want to hold him accountable.”

Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, who chairs the special committee investigating Sansom said Lewis' order will have little bearing on the House committee work.

“It's a separate inquiry,” he said.

House Speaker Larry Cretul signed off on the hiring of Hines Wednesday afternoon. Galvano said an agreement is still being worked out on how much Hines should be paid.

He added that he hopes Hines can start work immediately in laying out a timeline of “where she sees us going” and schedule an evidentiary hearing. Galvano said the hearing would likely be held outside of regularly scheduled committee weeks so that the committee would have uninterrupted time to hear the case.

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