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Ray Sansom Resigns

Florida Speaker ScandalFormer House Speaker Ray Sansom resigned his post in the Legislature Sunday night, a choice made on the eve of a legislative tribunal's hearing regarding his dealings with a western panhandle college.

Sansom submitted a letter to House Speaker Larry Cretul announcing his resignation, but noted that his resignation was not an admission of guilt.

“On the contrary, I have steadfastly maintained that I am innocent of any wrongdoing and I will never relent from that position," he wrote. “However, based on many considerations and the advice of counsel, I have decided that it is in the best interest of me and my family to resign at his time from the House of Representatives.”

The decision comes less than 24 hours before a House panel was to begin a formal hearing investigating Sansom's dealings as budget chairman with Northwest Florida State College.

In 2008, Sansom accepted an unadvertised vice presidency at the college while simultaneously ascending to the House speakership, one of the top jobs in Florida politics. Later, a St. Petersburg Times investigation revealed that Sansom, during his tenure as budget chairman, had steered an inordinate amount of money to the college in a difficult budget year.

And some of the money – $6 million – appeared to benefit frequent Sansom contributor Jay Odom, an Okaloosa developer. The money's official use was to be for an emergency operations center at the Destin airport, but later documents indicated that it might be used as an airport hangar for Odom's private business.

Sansom, amidst growing criticism, stepped down from the speakership Jan. 30, 2009, but remained in the Legislature. However, his troubles did not end there.

A Leon County grand jury indicted Sansom, as well as Odom and former Northwest Florida State College President James “Bob” Richburg. And over the summer, a secial investigator concluded that a complaint filed in the Legislature against Sansom had merit and that a special committee of lawmakers should investigate.

Susan Smith, an Odessa resident, filed a complaint against Sansom in January 2009, saying he damaged the integrity of the Legislature.

“Personally, my respect for the Florida House has been greatly diminished by Speaker Sansom's actions. At least 18 newspapers across Florida, including every major newspaper, have criticized or outright called on Sansom to resign,” she wrote

The House committee appointed to investigate the complaint had been meeting since August and was set to begin a trial of sorts Monday morning. Committee Chair Bill Galvano told reporters last week that lawyers had some preliminary discussions about an agreement between Sansom and the House to avoid the full blown hearing this week, but that lawyers on both sides were prepared to move ahead with Monday's proceedings.

Any work the committee does now, however, is moot because of Sansom's resignation.

Among the people who were expected to testify before the committee was Marco Rubio, the former House speaker who is now running for U.S. Senate.

Smith, who was en route from Odessa to Tallahassee when she heard that Sansom had resigned, said she was surprised to hear the news, and said she didn't even know what to expect as a result when she originally filed the complaint.

“I hate that they might not get to the bottom of the story,” she said. There might be a lot more there.”

A criminal trial against Sansom, Odom and Richburg is still pending. A circuit judge gutted official misconduct charges against the three men this past fall, but state attorney Willie Meggs had amended the charges to accuse them of grand theft. Sansom is slated to next appear in court on March 19 for a status conference with Judge Terry Lewis.

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