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State Attorney Charges Ray Sansom with Theft

Ousted House Speaker Ray Sansom is facing theft and conspiracy charges for his role in appropriating $6 million for an airport hangar that a private developer and political contributor wanted to use for a private jet business.

Leon County State Attorney Willie Meggs told the News Service and other news outlets Wednesday that he is amending an indictment against Sansom, Okaloosa developer Jay Odom and former Northwest Florida State College President Bob Richburg and charging them with grand theft and conspiracy to commit theft.

Meggs’ decision comes on the heels of an appeals court decision to not hear the state's original case against the men, which was based on official misconduct charges. A Leon County Judge had already gutted the criminal case in October, saying the defendants may not have been ethical in their dealings, but had not broken the law.

“We plan to go another route,” Meggs said.

If convicted, Sansom, Odom and Richburg could potentially face up to 30 years in prison.

The Sansom controversy began in fall 2008 when Sansom accepted a job at Northwest Florida State College just as he ascended to the House speakership. It was later discovered that as budget chairman, he had steered millions of dollars to the college in an extremely tight budget year, creating the appearance of a quid pro quo.

It's not unusual for lawmakers to steer money toward pet projects, but Sansom immediately came under criticism for taking the job at the institution and in particular for a $6 million appropriation for a building at the Destin airport

The $6 million was set to be used for a building at the Destin airport that was officially supposed to be for an emergency operations center. However, later evidence showed that it was going to also be used as an airport hangar for Odom, a frequent Sansom contributor.

A grand jury indicted the three men in the spring. Prior to that, Sansom stepped down from the speakership and the job at the college, making Rep. Larry Cretul, R-Ocala, the new speaker. A spokeswoman for the House said Wednesday that Cretul wouldn’t have a comment on the new charges. Sansom remains in his legislative seat, and has vowed that he would be vindicated.

Lawyers for Sansom and Odom did not return calls seeking comment Wednesday

Sansom is slated to face a trial of sorts in the Florida House later this month to determine whether he had violated House rules in his dealings with Northwest Florida State College.

An Odessa resident filed a complaint with the House saying that Sansom had damaged the integrity of the Legislature, which would be a violation of House rules. An attorney for Sansom asked the committee a few months ago to postpone its work until criminal proceedings were concluded, but the committee decided to move ahead with its work.

It is unclear how this latest development may affect the committee work, and the panel’s chairman, Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, could not be reached for comment.

If the House finds Sansom guilty of a rule violation, he could face a punishment ranging from a slap on the wrist to suspension from the House.

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