Grand Jury to Reconvene Friday in Sansom Case

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

According to the Associated Press, Former House Speaker Ray Sansom told his side of the story to a grand jury Thursday about accusations he misused his position to benefit a Panhandle college that had hired him for a six-figure job.

In a closed hearing, Sansom was questioned about accusations he helped direct $35 million to Northwest Florida State College during a two-year period he served as the House's budget chairman - millions more for building projects at the 15,000-student school than much larger state universities and community colleges get.

The largesse included $6 million for an air facility similar to a hurricane-proof hangar that Jay Odom, a Sansom friend and political supporter, once sought to construct with taxpayer money. Odom, who subsequently resigned from the board that oversees a state-created insurance company, did not appear Thursday.

Former Okaloosa County Airport Director Jerry Sealy, who was subpoenaed to testify in Thursday's proceeding, said afterward he had nothing to do with the decision to place the dual-use hangar and emergency operations center at the airport because the project "just doesn't make a lot of sense."

The grand jury heard testimony from 11 witnesses, including Sansom, over eight hours and then deliberated for nearly another hour about how to proceed before adjourning for the night.

State Attorney Willie Meggs said the panel asked to reconvene Friday morning to review paperwork before announcing its decision, which could range from seeking an indictment against the embattled Republican lawmaker or dismissing the case.

Sansom, who also resigned his university position, could also face possible Sunshine law violations for private meetings he arranged with college officials in Tallahassee.

Under fire, the Destin lawmaker stepped down as speaker in early February following the investigation and a separate ethics complaint, but kept his House seat. He was the first speaker in Florida history forced out of the office.

Sansom, 46, spent an hour and 20 minutes answering questions from jurors.

"I always enjoy talking to citizens," said Sansom, who was accompanied to the hearing by former Statewide Prosecutor Pete Antonacci, now a private defense attorney.

Antonacci held a third-floor elevator door for Sansom, who rode alone to the ground level away from reporters.

NFSC President Bob Richburg, who spent more than an hour answering questions in the closed proceeding, did not comment afterward.

Richburg hired Sansom to a $110,000-a-year job at the school on the same day he became speaker in November. Sansom was hired as the school's top fundraiser at $25,000 more than his predecessor.

Sansom was replaced as speaker by Rep. Larry Cretul, a little-known Ocala real estate broker.

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