[UPDATE] 6-13 -
A federal investigation into former House Speaker Ray Sansom continues, with the FBI sending subpoenas to the speaker’s office looking for travel records, and to a former Sansom aide, the Northwest Florida Daily News and Destin Log reported. Sansom’s former aide, Samantha Sullivan, now an aide to Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, was subpoenaed, Gaetz confirmed to the newspaper late last week. Sullivan worked for Sansom, a Destin Republican, for seven years. Sansom was forced to step down in 2009, shortly after becoming speaker, during an investigation into how he got money into the state budget when he was budget chairman, and whether he included money in the budget for a building to benefit a contributor. The newspaper also reported late last week that the House Office of Legislative Services received a federal subpoena Thursday for documents, including travel records.
The decision to prosecute former House Speaker Ray Sansom for theft and conspiracy -- and then drop those charges in the middle of the trial -- almost cost the office of State Attorney Willie Meggs $300,000, at least if one lawmaker had his way.
Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, briefly sponsored a budget amendment Thursday that would have taken the $300,000 and used it "for compensation of individuals wrongfully incarcerated." Siplin has been withering in his criticism of Meggs for prosecuting Sansom, whose trial ended last week after Meggs dropped the charges. But Siplin withdrew the amendment after Budget Chairman J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, asked him to drop the issue. "If you wouldn’t mind, I’d prefer not to add insult to injury," Alexander said.
THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, March 28, 2011 --
Prosecutors dropped all charges against former House Speaker Ray Sansom and a political contributor Friday, ending a four-year saga that toppled one of the state’s most powerful figures and prompted renewed calls for increased transparency at the Capitol.
The abrupt decision to abandon the case against Sansom, a Destin Republican who rose to the top House post after the 2008 elections, followed a statement by Circuit Judge Terry Lewis that he didn’t believe prosecutors had made any progress in their attempt to prove a conspiracy by Sansom and political contributor Jay Odom to steal taxpayer money.
That complicated efforts by the prosecution to call former Northwest Florida State College President Bob Richburg, who had already struck a plea deal with the state, as a co-conspirator. Without him, the prosecution would have trouble moving forward.
The case stemmed from a 2007 appropriation that was supposed to be for an emergency operations center in Sansom’s district. But Prosecutor Willie Meggs argued that it was really a thinly-disguised effort to build a taxpayer-funded hangar for Odom.
Speaking to reporters after Meggs’ decision was announced, Sansom thanked God and also said he was grateful for his family and attorneys for standing by him.
“Christ has been very faithful to me and my family,” Sansom said. “He’s carried us through these last two years. ... The truth mattered and the judge saw it.”
While he said he wasn’t bitter, Sansom slammed Meggs and the St. Petersburg Times, which first raised questions about the facility, for their part in the scandal that led to Sansom’s resignation from the speakership before the 2009 regular session. Weeks later, Meggs indicted him.
“I hope that Mr. Meggs understands what he does to families when he does this,” Sansom said.
Meggs shied away from commenting about what the case says about the political process or how the Legislature goes about crafting the annual state spending plan.
“There’s a lot I could say,” Meggs said. “I don’t know that I gain a whole lot, especially in budget times.”
But Meggs also quickly swatted away a question about whether he agreed there was no wrongdoing in the case.
“Oh, no, no,” he said. “I agree that the state was not able to carry its burden of establishing a conspiracy.”
As part of an agreement with Meggs to drop the prosecution, Sansom and Odom agreed to pay $103,000 each in restitution to the college to help cover $310,000 the school spent on the facility before being asked to return to the state $6 million appropriated for the building.
Richburg, whose plea deal will also be dropped, will also pay his share of the money, Meggs said.
But Sansom attorney Stephen Dobson was adamant that the payment was not an admission of guilt on Sansom’s part.
“Ray Sansom is absolutely innocent, he was and I knew that from the day he walked in and we talked about this case,” Dobson said.
At the Capitol, where Sansom was once a rising star in the dominant Republican Party, the fallout was not certain. Former Gov. Charlie Crist said earlier this week that he would have vetoed the facility if he had known its true purpose, and called the budget item “wholly inappropriate.” Legislative leaders have taken pains since Sansom’s indictment to argue that they are making the budget process more transparent.
After Friday’s decision, Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith argued that the case showed the need for strengthening the state’s ethics laws.
“While the facts of the case clearly showed the actions of Sansom and others were wrong and unethical, perhaps the most serious thing the Sansom case showed is that Florida’s prosecutors don’t have the legal tools necessary to crack down on such corruption,” Smith said.
For his part, Sansom said he wouldn’t have done anything differently when it came to the relatively small slice of the state budget that cost him the speaker’s gavel, his seat in the Legislature and a $110,000-a-year job at the college. He argued that the project is still needed.
“My concern is that in the future, that someone’s going to get really hurt because that building’s not there,” he said.
And Sansom did not rule out a return to the political arena.
“You know what?” he said. “I’m not concerned about any political future. .... My future’s in God’s hands and I will follow His lead.”
Tallahassee, FL 3.24.2011
UPDATE BY Amy Long 9:57pm
The Ray Sansom trial abruptly ended Friday afternoon,
"At this point and time there's no further actions to be taken in this case." says State Attorney Willie Meggs.
The star witness, former co-defendant Dr. Bob Richburg joined the gallery as State Attorney Willie Meggs announced both sides came to an agreement.
"The judge ruled from the beginning of the case that you cannot steal an appropriation or legislature." says defense attorney Steve Dobson.
Some say the 'outcome is just business as usual'
Chris Capeless didn't like the out come of the trial, "I can say that I'm not surprised. There's been a tendency for corruption, tendency for the state to portray itself as squeaky clean while tolerating this abuse of power."
Meggs watched as his case rolled out of the courtroom BUT says he still doesn't agree the two are innocent.
"Oh no, no. I agree that the state was not able to carry its burden of establishing a conspiracy." says Willie Meggs
Steve Dobson, Sansom's attorney says,"There's no admission of guilt. Ray Sansom is absolutely innocent and I knew that from the day he walked in and we talked about this case."
"There is no price tag you can put on your reputation, no price tag. I hope that Mr. Meggs understands what he does to families when he does this." says Sansom.
Sansom, Richburg and Odom will each paid $103.33 in restitution to Northwest Florida State College.
March 25 7pm
The week long trial of Florida's former house speaker is over.
The state attorney dropped grand theft and conspiracy charges against Ray Sansom and Destin developer Jay Odom before his key witness ever took the stand.
Bob Richburg fought back tears as he walked into courtroom 3G shortly after lunch and within minutes it was all over.
"The state and the defense have reached an agreement in this case and at this point in time, there is no further action to be taken in this case," Meggs announced to the judge.
That deal? Grand theft and conspiracy charges against Ray Sansom and Jay Odom would be dropped if they each paid $103-thosuand dollars in restitution to Northwest Florida State College.
"I hope Mr. Meggs understands what he does to families when he does this and I hope that if he ... I guess he has another year and a half to go ... that he will investigate before he indicts. That indicting a legislator for a budget item is not a way to stop legislation," Sansom said afterward.
Meggs was forced to drop the charges after the judge made it clear earlier in the day that he didn't see any proof of a conspiracy. Meggs said he and the judge clearly disagreed on the meaning of the law , but Meggs has no intention of admitting Sansom did nothing wrong.
"We felt it was best to get the funds that have been expended on this project returned to the college," Meggs said afterward. He said it will be up the public to decide what this case revealed about the status quo at the capitol.
One of Sansom's attorneys called the case, "silly" and "stupid" and Sansom says even though he has now been exonerated, his reputation is forever tarnished by the scandal.
"Oh Lord. There is no price tag you can put on your repuation," he said afterward.
Richburg, who was originally facing charges with Sansom and Odom, was supposed to testify against them this afternoon, but that never happened.
The restitution all three men are paying will reimburse the college for money it had paid trying to design a building that in the end never got off the ground.
Sansom said that may be the biggest loss of all. He says Destin, which was hit hard by Hurricane Opal back in the mid 90's, needed that EOC.
March 25 2:10pm by Julie Montanaro
State attorney Willie Meggs has dropped the charges against Ray Sansom and Jay Odom.
Meggs said it was clear they would not be able to convince the judge there was a conspiracy and he agreed to drop charges if Sansom and Odom agreed to pay $103,000 in restitution to the college.
March 25 1:55pm by Julie Montanaro
The state attorney has announced that the prosecution and defense have reached an agreement in the case and the judge has sent the jury home.
The state is dropping its criminal prosecution of former House Speaker Ray Sansom.
Stay with WCTV for details.
March 25 1:30pm by Julie Montanaro
Former Northwest Florida State College president Bob Richburg is expected to testify this afternoon.
Richburg made a deal with the state two weeks ago to avoid prosecution in exchange for his testimony against Sansom and Odom.
Just before lunch, the judge said right now there is not enough evidence to prove a conspiracy. After the appropriation was made, he said, what evidence is there that anyone was trying to conceal it?
The state contends there is sufficient evidence to show the three men worked together to commit a crime.
March 25, 2011 Noon -- Julie Montanaro
It is day five in the corruption trial of former Florida House Speaker Ray Sansom. The prosecution's key witness is expected on the stand later today.
Bob Richburg, who was once considered a co-conspirator in this case, is expected to take the stand later today.
Stay with WCTV for more on the trial.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- March 25, 2011 --
A judge has dealt prosecutors an early blow in the corruption trial of former Florida House Speaker Ray Sansom by saying they have not yet provided enough evidence of a
Circuit Judge Terry Lewis gave his opinion Friday in response to
a motion to introduce testimony by Bob Richburg. Richburg is the
former college president who had been charged in the case before
agreeing to turn state's evidence. It is now unclear whether he
will be allowed to testify.
Sansom is charged with scheming to get a $6 million state budget
appropriation in 2007 to build a hangar at the Destin airport for
businessman Jay Odom. Defense lawyers say the money was for a
much-needed and hurricane-proof emergency operations center for the city of Destin.
March 25, 2011 9:40am by Julie Montanaro
Architect Jim Dowling is now on the stand in courtroom 3G.
He was hired to design what is now being called "the Destin Project" for Northwest Florida State College in March 2008.
The state attorney flashed a series of emails on a screen that circulated among him, Jason Carter (a representative of Jay Odom's development company) and college vice president Gary Yancey.
An October 2008 email from Carter to Dowling confirmed that there would be aircraft maintenance in the facility.
A November 2008 email and December response show Dowling did not realize that there would be more than one plane in the facility. He said he had to make some changes to his design plans as a result, including changing the slope of the floor and adding a drain system.
The emails also show that as late as February 2009 the college attempted to change the language in its site plan from "hangar" to "staging area."
UPDATED 3.24.2011 10:53 by Amy Long
Day four of the Ray Sansom trial is in the books. Between objections and side bars, State attorney's say they aren't as far a long as they thought they would be.
The former House Speaker and Destin developer, Jay Odom face grand theft and conspiracy charges for securing $6million in state funding for what prosecutors say was an airport hangar disguised in the budget as an Emergency Operations and Workforce Center.
State Attorney Willie Meggs used witnesses and e-mails to build a timeline while the defense says those e-mails or "group think tanks" prove the transparency of the plan.
Gary Yancey, Ph.D., NWFSC Vice President of Administration read an e-mail aloud to the court: " The college did not request this money but ray Sansom was instrumental in getting it into our PECO budget to provide the facilities in Destin."
Stephen Dobson, Sansom's attorney, "Is there any question in your mind that if this facility would have been built that the college would have used it for class rooms and training?
Brian Shonk/ NWFSC Director of Public Safety, says,
Former Northwest Florida State college president Bob Richburg - who was an accused conspirator in this case until he copped a plea deal just a few weeks ago - is expected to take the stand tomorrow. His testimony will undoubtedly shed the most light on the actions and intentions of those involved in the Destin deal.
UPDATED March 24 6:35pm by Julie Montanaro
The prosecution could wrap up its case Friday in the grand theft and conspiracy trial of former Florida House Speaker Ray Sansom.
Co-defendant turned key witness Bob Richburg is expected to take the stand Friday afternoon. Richburg agreed to testify against Sansom and Destin developer Jay Odom as part of a deal brokered less than two weeks before trial.
Prosecutors introduced numerous emails into evidence Thursday afternoon, as they questioned Northwest Florida State College Vice President Gary Yancey and the director of safety at the college,
[UPDATE] March 24 Noon - Julie Montanaro --
Day four of the conspiracy, and fraud trial of former Florida House Speaker Ray Sansom is well underway in Tallahassee.
New testimony reveals that Sansom was told if the project in question was called a training center it would be less likely to get vetoed.
Lobbyist Jeff Schembera was on the witness stand around noon on March 24. He is the consultant who worked for the college that would build the project.
Part of his testimony included emails that circulated among himself, Ray Sansom and Bob Richburg in April and May 2007.
In one of them he suggested that the best chance for getting funding would be to skip any mention of the Destin airport.
Schembera says that was not an attempt to hide the location or the purpose of the project, but was designed to put the project in the best light and give it the best chance of being funded and not vetoed. Sansom faces charges that he schemed to get a $6 million budget appropriation in 2007 to build a hangar at the Destin airport for his co-defendant.
Schembera said he sent all of his emails to Sansom's legislative email address, which the defense points out are all subject to public records laws.
Circuit Judge Terry Lewis just ruled that the jury can hear evidence that Sansom was ultimately hired by college president Bob Richburg and his hiring was approved by the college board afterward.
[UPDATE] March 24 11:45am - Julie Montanaro --
Dr. Jill White, a former senior vice president at the college, is now on the stand.
White says she was asked to find appropriate academic classes for the Destin facility. She suggested in addition to EMT training, it might be a good place to hold classes in surveying and mapping and aerospace engineering.
White was also the one who physically turned over president Bob Richburg's computer to law enforcement investigating this case. It is sitting on a table in the courtroom wrapped in red evidence tape.
[UPDATE] March 24 11:55am - Julie Montanaro --
Circuit Judge Terry Lewis has ruled that the jury can hear evidence that Ray Sansom was ultimately hired by college president Bob Richburg and his hiring was approved by the board afterward.
Defense attorneys tried to keep that evidence out. Both objected and
Jay Odom's attorney renewed his request to sever Odom's case from Sansom's. The judge said no.
College trustee Dale Rice testified that he had breakfast with Sansom and Richburg one morning at the Crestview Cracker Barrell. Rice said after Sansom left, Richburg said Sansom wanted to work at the college.
Rice said Sansom was hired for a part time job at the college soon afterward and the board later approved the hire.
[UPDATE] March 24 10:45am - Julie Montanaro --
Jerry McDaniel, who served as budget director for Governor Charlie Crist, testified that he and his staff recommended funding for the Destin airport project be vetoed.
McDaniel said his staff notes said it was not on any list nor was it requested by the college and it was labelled Mr. Sansom's project.
McDaniel says the appropriation was not vetoed.
McDaniel says concerns over the project escalated in the wake of media reports and he later wrote a letter to the college board asking that it return $310,000 to the state.
The former chairman of the college board also testified. Joseph Henderson says he had no idea that the joint use facility at Destin airport was going to be used as a hangar or leased to Jay Odom.
He says the project was not on the college's five year plan.
[UPDATE] March 24 10:30am - AP --
A consultant testifying Thursday, March 24 in the corruption trial of former Florida House Speaker Ray Sansom says he told Sansom in an email that justifying a multi-million-dollar budget item as a training center would provide "cover" to get it passed.
Jeff Schembera is the consultant who worked for the college that
would build the project. He later said on the stand Thursday that
he was being flippant in the email and wasn't trying to mislead
anyone. The trial continues throughout the day.
Sansom faces charges that he schemed to get a $6 million budget
appropriation in 2007 to build a hangar at the Destin airport for
his co-defendant. Defense lawyers have said the money was for a new hurricane-proof emergency operations center.
[UPDATE] March 24 9:30am
Lobbyist Jeff Schembera is on the witness stand right now.
He is reading a series of emails that circulated among himself, Ray Sansom and Bob Richburg in April and May 2007:
In one of them he suggested that the best chance for getting funding would be to skip any mention of the Destin airport. He sent another email a few days later discussing the language they had used to describe the project
"Looks good to me. If the political will is there this will provide programmatic cover," it said.
Schembera says that was not an attempt to hide the location or the purpose of the project, but was designed to put the project in the best light and give it the best chance of being funded and not vetoed.
Schembera said he sent all of his emails to Sansom's legislative email address, which the defense points out are all subject to public records laws.
Every time I spoke to Ray Sansom there were about 50 people around including reporters, he said.
The News Service of Florida: BRANDON LARRABEE
THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, March 23, 2011....A project prosecutors say was a thinly-veiled attempt to get a state-funded hangar for one of former House Speaker Ray Sansom’s supporters would have drawn a veto if the proposal were honestly explained to him, former Gov. Charlie Crist testified Wednesday.
Speaking at the theft trial of Sansom and Jay Odom, a political ally, Crist told jurors he would have nixed the line item for the $6 million project, billed as an emergency operations center, if he had been aware that it was aimed at getting a hangar for Odom, as prosecutors argue. Crist made similar comments at a proffer hearing earlier in the morning, when Circuit Judge Terry Lewis ruled that the former governor’s testimony could be heard by the jury.
“I would have vetoed it if I had know what the real facts were,” Crist said in the earlier session.
Crist and former Senate Budget Chairwoman Lisa Carlton, R-Osprey, testified about their knowledge of how the project at Northwest Florida State College, then called Okaloosa Walton Community College, came to be included in the budget passed by the Legislature in 2007.
Reports that Sansom, as House budget chief, funneled money to the college and then took a $110,000-a-year job at the school around the same time he became speaker eventually forced him from the speakership before the start of the regular legislative session in 2009.
In their cross-examination, defense lawyers tried to make the point that Crist had little knowledge of whether the project at the college was actually in line with what the state expected, and that he based his later statements that he would have vetoed the project -- and his decision to ask the college to return the money -- on little more than newspaper accounts.
Crist said he also got some information about the emerging questions surrounding the project from Budget Director Jerry McDaniel.
“But you don’t know who he talked to either, though, do you?” asked James Judkins, Odom’s attorney.
“No, I don’t,” Crist responded.
“He might have just read the paper too,” Judkins said.
“That’s not a terrible thing,” Crist replied.
Defense attorneys also appeared to be trying to lay the groundwork for saying that the project really was justified by the need for better emergency preparations in Destin.
“We had just had a lot of hurricanes the past couple of years prior to that,” Crist conceded under cross-examination.
Much of Crist’s testimony came over the objections of defense lawyers, who said it couldn’t shed any light on whether Sansom and Odom are guilty of theft and conspiracy by getting the project inserted into the budget.
“Why he didn’t veto [the item] is of no moment in this case. ... He could have signed the bill at the beach, for all the world cares,” Judkins told Lewis.
Talking to reporters after his testimony, Crist avoided saying whether he thought Sansom was guilty of wrongdoing. But Crist, now a lawyer in private practice at personal injury firm Morgan & Morgan in Orlando, did say he thought the project was “wholly inappropriate.” He said he would have used his line-item veto on the measure if Sansom and Odom had told him up front the real intent of the project.
“I mean, if they’re going to describe to the governor’s office and the budget office that it’s going to be used for a certain purpose, and in fact it’s going to be used for something else, that’s the first clue that maybe it’s inappropriate,” Crist said. “But the fact that, as we have later learned, that was the case, it was clear to me that had we known that beforehand, it would have been vetoed first.”
Carlton testified about the large surplus of PECO dollars – the school construction fund - that the state had and how several projects were added to the budget following a revenue estimating conference that showed the extra money.
Prosecutors are expected to wrap up their case by the end of the week. It is not clear yet whether Sansom will testify in his own defense.
UPDATED 3.23.2011 6:30pm by Julie Montanaro
Former Governor Charlie Crist took the stand today in the corruption trial of one-time House Speaker Ray Sansom.
It was the most damaging testimony so far as Sansom and GOP contributor Jay Odom fight grand theft and conspiracy charges.
"Basically I was told it was to be used for emergency operations and training," Crist said.
Crist told the jury he remembered the EOC/Workforce center in the budget, and signed off on it, but had no idea it was also a private aircraft hangar.
"If you had been given information that the appropriation to the Okaloosa-Walton College for a joint use emergency response workforce center was going to be leased in part to Destin Jet for an aircraft maintenance and storage facility, would you have vetoed the appropriation?" asked State Attorney Willie Meggs.
"Yes I would," Crist replied.
"After you became aware of that information, what action did you take?"
"Objection. Hearsay," Jimmy Judkins shouted.
"Ok. Overruled," Circuit Judge Terry Lewis said.
"I requested that the money be returned," Crist responded.
Crist testified for the prosecution as former house speaker Ray Sansom and GOP campaign contributor Jay Odom stand accused of conspiring to use $6million in state funding to build that hangar at the Destin airport.
Defense attorneys tried to convince the judge that his testimony was "irrelevant" and "prejudicial" but the judge disagreed.
"I would allow that questioning," Lewis said from the bench.
Crist admitted under oath that after the scandal broke, he did not even contact the college to ask questions before asking for a refund. He says made that decision based on the advice of his budget director and what he read in the paper.
"You don't know who he talked to either though, do you?" asked defense attorney Jimmy Judkins.
"No, I don't," Crist answered.
"He might have just read it in the paper too," Judkins said.
"Well that's not a terrible thing," Crist replied with a grin.
Some important testimony today as well from Lisa Cook who is in charge of facilities planning and budgeting for Florida's colleges and universities.
She says most school construction projects follow a three year funding plan. She says she wasn't aware of this one until it showed up in the budget.
[UPDATE] 3-23 Noon -- by Julie Montanaro
A big blow for Ray Sansom as the former governor takes the stand. Charlie Crist testified in the grand theft and conspiracy trial this morning.
The former governor wasn't on the stand long, but his is perhaps the most damaging testimony so far.
Charlie Crist was the first witness on the stand Wednesday morning.
He says he recalls the Destin EOC/Workforce Center as a line item in the budget and says he did not veto it. Crist testified that he later found out by reading the newspaper that the money was being used for an airplane hanger.
"If you had been given information that the appropriations of Okaloosa-Walton College for a joint use emergency response work force center was going to be leased in part to Destin Jet for use as an aircraft maintenance and storage facility would you have vetoed the appropriation?" Willie Meggs, State Attorney, asked Charlie Crist.
"Yes, I would," Crist replies.
Crist testified he later sent a letter to Northwest Florida State College asking the board to return the money.
Defense attorneys tried to keep Crist off the stand, calling his testimony irrelevant and prejudicial, but the judge obviously disagreed.
It is also not clear when Bob Richburg will testify.
A woman who took the stand earlier today who is in charge of all of the construction dollars for Florida's colleges and universities. She said she never heard of this project until it showed up in the budget.
Stay with WCTV.tv for updates.
March 23 11:15am by Julie Montanaro
Lisa Cook, who is the Director of Facilitites Planning and Budgeting for colleges and universities at the DOE, is now on the stand. She was deputy director back in2007.
Cook says the DOE has its first PECO conference in July and finds out how much funding will be available in the coming year. She said colleges and universities then submit their funding requests in August.
Cook said most projects go through a three year process, receiving money for planning in the first year, construction in the second and equipment in the third.
Cook testified that the Destin project did not go through that process and she did not have any knowledge of it before it appeared in the budget.
March 23 10:05am by Julie Montanaro
Former Governor Charlie Crist is back on the stand and is now testifying in front of the jury.
Crist testified, over defense objections, that he would have vetoed the Destin project had he known it was going to serve as a private airplane hangar. After discovering that, Crist testified that he sent a letter to the Northwest Florida State College Board asking for the money back.
Crist testified that he did not talk to anyone at the college about this project before sending that letter. He says he discussed it with his budget director, Jerry McDaniel, but he doesn't know who McDaniel consulted with either.
"He might have just read it in the paper too?" Defense attorney Jimmy Judkins asked.
"It's not a terrible thing," Crist responded.
March 23 9:55am by Julie Montanaro
Former Florida Senator Lisa Carlton is now on the stand. She was the senate appropriations chair in 2007 at the same time that Ray Sansom was the House Appropriations chair.
Carlton says she does not recall ever talking about this item, but says she did sign off on the overall PECO list.
Carlton says in 2007 there was enough money to fund all the PECO projects on the DOE list as well as the house and senate lists. She says she asked questions about the senate requests but did not ask those questions about any house projects.
Carlton said if she had known this item was anything more than what it seemed to be she would have asked staff to investigate or contacted the DOE to learn more about it.
The defense called it "second guessing at its height."
The judge agreed.
March 23 9:20am by Julie Montanaro
Defense attorneys are trying to keep former Governor Charlie Crist from testifying in front of the jury.
Jimmy Judkins and Stephen Dobson argue that Crist's testimony is irrelevant and highly prejudicial. They argue jurors would give Crist's testimony undue weight.
The judge ruled Crist's testimony is relevant.
State Attorney Willie Meggs also questioned Crist about his involvement with the Florida GOP. Crist says as a leader in the Republican Party, Ray Sansom would have had a degree of control over the party funds.
Crist said he would consider a donation of more than $200,000 to be
"significant." He also said he has previously met Jay Odom at political functions, but never talked to him about this project.
March 23, 9am by Julie Montanaro
Former Governor Charlie Crist is now testifying in the corruption trial of former Florida House Speaker Ray Sansom.
Crist says he was familiar with a line item in the budget to create an emergency operations center and classrooms at the Destin Airport. Crist said he did not veto the line item but said he would have if he had known it was going to build a private hangar for Jay Odom.
Crist testified that once he discovered the facility was not merely an emergency operations center he asked for the money back. He says he found out about the hangar by "reading it in the newspaper like most people."
The jury is not in the courtroom during this testimony because the judge wants to make some legal rulings on defense objections first.
UPDATE 3.22.2011 11:25pm by Amy Long
Day two of Former House Speaker Ray Sansom's trial is now in the books. The state brought forth 15 witnesses so far and some big names are expected in the coming days.
Most of the witness that took the stand today were from Okaloosa County where the project in question would have been built.
The judge started the afternoon reading jury instruction in regards to the 6 million dollars that Sansom is accused of funneling to a Destin college to build an airport hangar. Even the he says it was a little premature but want to be sure the jury was clear a theft does not occur because state funds are spent unwisely.
State Attorney Willie Meggs brought Okaloosa County emergency management personnel and airport officials to the stand and asked them to think back.
Dino Vilani, the Director of Emergency Services, recalled a lunch with Sansom's co-defendant and Destin Developer, Jay Odom. "Mr. Odom had plans with him obviously and we looked at the plans and it was an air plane hangar he talked about the additional used for that structure."
When Vilani told Odom the multi-use facility wouldn't be funded through the EOC he says Odom brought an interesting statement to the table. "He wasn't concerned about that. He said he knew how to get funding from the state. He knew people." Meggs asks, "Okay, did he name any of those people?" Vilani says, "Yes, Ray Sansom, Allen Boyd, a couple of other legislators."
Former House Staff Worker, Mike Hansen worked hand in hand with Sansom. He says Sansom passed him a hand written note about the Destin project to be added to the budget. BUT Hansen says he didn't think anything of it. Hansen says, "He gave me many items and he had a system that he would use to designate those that were important and those that weren't." Meggs asks, "What does a circle with a line through it mean?" Hansen says "That it was important."
Former Governor Charlie Crist expected to testify before the end of the week. The judge asked Meggs the questions he prepared to ask Crist. The defense did not agree with many of them.
Testimony continues tomorrow.
UPDATED 3.22.2011 6:45pm by Julie Montanaro
Testimony continued Tuesday in the grand theft and conspiracy trial of Former Florida House Speaker Ray Sansom.
Most of the witnesses on the stand came from the white sand beaches of Okaloosa County to testify about development orders, funding requests and hurricane evacuations.
Destin City Manager Greg Kisela testified that a $6 million dollar community budget request to build an emergency operations center at the Destin airport initially fell flat, but he said, he soon got word that it would be "repackaged" as an educational facility.
"It's the legislative process," Kisela said.
"It's what they do, isn't it?" asked defense attorney Jimmy Judkins.
"I don't ... really understand how things get funded or not funded," Kisela said.
That funding deal is now at the heart of this criminal trial. Former Florida House Speaker Ray Sansom and Destin developer Jay Odom are accused of grand theft and conspiracy for steering state funding to build Odom a private airplane hangar.
Okaloosa County Emergency Management Chief Randy McDaniel described a meeting he attended.
"They had talked about Mr. Odom pulling his aircraft out if a storm is approaching so that the Destin Fire Department could move its equipment in and its personnel in,"McDaniel said.
Okaloosa County had no interest in participating in that project because it was trying to get funding for its own EOC in Niceville, McDaniel said. But he agreed Destin needed its own EOC.
"You did endorse the concept of an EOC in Destin, correct?" asked defense attorney Richard Smith.
"I believe so, yes," McDaniel said.
"And you still do?"
"Yes. They need a new EOC."
This afternoon, a house budget committee staffer testified Sansom attached a note to the Destin project with a telltale circle on it which, he said, meant it should be "at the top of the list" for funding.
That happened despite a dictate from then-house speaker Marco Rubio that there would be no member projects approved that year.
Key witnesses Charlie Crist and Bob Richburg could take the stand Wednesday.
[UPDATE] 3-22 Noon -- Eyewitness News --
Testimony continues in the grand theft and conspiracy trial of Florida's former House Speaker. Ray Sansom and Destin developer Jay Odom are essentially accused of stealing taxpayer money to fund an airplane hangar for Destin jets.
It has been slow going in courtroom 3G, so far.
Sansom and Odom are accused of conspiracy for manipulating the budget process to the tune of 6 million for a private airplane hangar at the Destin airport.
The state attorney said yesterday that no one wanted that hangar but Odom.
The Destin city manager has been on the stand all morning describing a series of meetings to talk about building an emergency operations center at the airport that could withstand a hurricane.
The application for those legislative funds came with letters of endorsement from fire and public safety officials.
[UPDATE] 3-22 9:36am -- Michael Peltier --
A building put into the state budget by former House Speaker Ray Sansom was never asked for by anyone except a Sansom contributor and ally, the government charged in an opening statement in Sansom’s trial for theft of state money on Monday. The contributor, Jay Odom, is also facing charges in the corruption case that forced the speaker from office.
Sansom, who resigned in 2008, is accused of funneling about $6 million to Northwest Florida State College. Prosecutors allege the money actually was meant to help Odom build an airplane hangar for private jets.
“The college never asked for this building. The county never asked for this building. The city never really asked for this building,” Prosecutor Willie Meggs said in his opening statement. “The only people who wanted this … building is Jay Odom, a defendant in this case. He is the only one who is asking for it and he wanted the state of Florida to build it for him. So then comes Ray Sansom.”
Sansom, who was in the courtroom Monday, faces up to 30 years in prison for grand theft and conspiracy for his part in what prosecutors say was a scheme in 2007 to build the hanger for Odom, a heavyweight political contributor, using state education money. Former college President Bob Richburg was charged with being in on the plan, but he is now testifying against Sansom.
Attorneys for Sansom argued in opening his defense on Monday that their client used his position as an incoming House speaker to do what others before him have done, working to secure for his constituents a valuable project that would improve emergency response capabilities in the coastal city of Destin. Besides, the money was in the state budget, there for lawmakers to see, and they voted on it.
“This has happened since time immortal,” said Sansom attorney Steve Dobson.
Monday’s arguments come more than two years after Sansom stepped down from the powerful legislative position following mounting criticism for taking a $110,000 a year job with the college located in his district. Subsequent investigation found that, as the chairman of the House budget committee, Sansom had helped shepherd more than $35 million in projects to the college, formerly known as Okaloosa Walton Community College.
Meggs, Dobson and Odom’s attorney James Judkins, outlined their upcoming cases to a jury of four women and two men who were picked from a pool of potential jurors on Friday. Much of the evidence will involve emails and other electronic exchanges between the defendants and Northwest Florida’s former president, Richburg, who is expected to testify against Sansom and Odom as part of a plea agreement. The case has been scheduled to go until Friday.
During his opening, Dobson focused on the appropriations process and how the project, which began as a Community Issue Budget Request, was transformed into a member project after then-House Speaker Marco Rubio told members no CIBRs would be funded in 2007. Nonetheless, the item showed up in the final budget as a member project, a routine inclusion given Sansom’s political clout.
“The evidence will show you that he did what any legislator is supposed to do: Fund good, meaningful projects for his community,” Dobson said.
Meggs, in turn, said the process was far from routine as Sansom, Odom and Richburg scrambled to put together a defensible proposal after the fact to justify the hastily added line item.
“Usually buildings on college campuses are on a three to five- year plan,” Meggs said. “This project was on a 30-day plan. It was on the 30-day plan of Ray Sansom and Jay Odom and they used the defendant, Robert Richburg, the president of the college, to accomplish that.”
Odom’s attorney, Judkins, said the emergency operations complex was of paramount importance to Destin City officials, who, following devastating hurricane seasons in 2004 and 2005, wanted a place on the island to house emergency responders and serve as a jumping off point for recovery efforts.
Odom made no attempt to conceal the fact he was interested in leasing space from the college, but went ahead with other plans when the deal fell through.
UPDATE 3.21.2011 11pm by Amy Long
Former House Speaker Ray Sansom listened as State Attorney Willie Meggs told the jury the former lawmaker essentially defrauded tax payers of Florida.
During opening arguments- Meggs accused Sansom of funneling 6 million dollars to Northwest Florida State College from state education funds to construct an air plane hangar disguised as a classroom for Destin developer, and co-defendant Jay Odom. "Why would Ray Sansom do these things for the college and for Jay Odom? Well, you're going to find out that Jay Odom is a major campaign contributor." says Meggs.
Defense attorneys say Sansom knows law and so does former Florida Governor Charlie Crist and the legislature who all signed off on the multi use facility. And they say the deal was done in the public eye. "There is no way Ray Sansom is guilty of these charges." says Stephen Dobson, Sansom's attorney.
Joel Mynard Florida Division of Elections agreed with defense attorneys when they asked: "Anyone in the world can find out what contributions were made and who made those contributions correct?"
Documents, blue prints and e-mails were entered as evidence Monday.
FDLE Digital evidence expert Jennifer Roeder scanned Sansom's computer hard drive for certain keywords and turned back 4,400 e-mails and documents
With only a paper trail to go on, the jury will decided if the former Florida lawmaker is guilty of robbing tax payers in private politics or if it was all by the book.
UPDATED 3.21.2011 7:15pm by Julie Montanaro
Former Florida House Speaker Ray Sansom is now on trial for grand theft and conspiracy in the wake of 6 million dollar appropriations deal.
Ray Sansom is accused of essentially stealing money from the taxpayers of Florida.
Prosecutors say he found a way to secure $6 million in state funding to build an airport hangar for GOP donor Jay Odom.
Yet defense attorneys say it was all "by the book" of politics and the law.
Former House Speaker Ray Sansom - once among the most powerful lawmakers in Florida - is now fighting felony charges along with Destin developer Jay Odom.
Prosecutors say the pair - along with former college president Bob Richburg - schemed to use 6 million in taxpayer money to build an airport hangar for Odom's jet-setting business.
"When all the dust settles and all is said and done, you will see this is predominately an aircraft hangar for the maintenance and storage of aircrafts for the defendant, Jay Odom," state attorney Willie Meggs told the jury.
Meggs contends Sansom skirted the legislative process
and managed to secure school construction funds - not in the normal 3 to 5 years - but as Meggs put it "on the 30 day plan."
"Why would Ray Sansom do these things for the college and for Jay Odom? Well, you're going to find out that Jay Odom is a major campaign contributor," Meggs said.
Meggs says Odom contributed $22,000 dollars to Sansom's re-election campaigns and more than $800,000 to the Florida GOP.
"This is not the first time by the way that a member project, that a person in a leadership position in the legislature put in money for his district to help the people in his district," defense attorney Stephen Dobson countered. "This has happened since time immortal in the legislature."
Defense attorneys vigorously deny it all. They contend the legislature and governor all signed off on a multi-use facility ... one that would give the college classroom space, give Odom hangar space, and give Destin emergency crews a safe place to ride out hurricanes.
None of it, they say, was a secret or a crime.
"There is no way Ray Sansom is guilty of these charges," Dobson said.
Testimony today wrapped up at about 4:30 and will resume in the morning.
Former Northwest Florida State College President will testify against Sansom and Odom as part of a plea deal. He could take the stand as early as Tuesday afternoon and former governor Charlie Crist is expected to take the stand later this week.
3-21 by Whitney Ray
Tallahassee, FL - From the pinnacle of legislative power… to a defendant in a grand theft trial… the fall from grace for Former House Speaker Ray Sansom has been a long one. Sansom is in court for the way he tried to spend six million tax dollars while in power.
In 2007, Sansom funneled the money to Northwest Florida State College in Okaloosa County for construction…. but to construct what is still in question.
The six million dollars came from state education funds, and the defense says the money would have been used to build classrooms and to store emergency vehicles if a hurricane hit, but the prosecution says that’s just the cover story… and the secret purpose of the building was to house jets for a political contributor.
That contributor Jay Odom is on trial with Sansom. At the off-set of the case there were three co-defendants, but college president Bob Richburg struck a plea deal and will testify against Sansom and Odom.
In the opening statements Monday morning Leon County Prosecutor Willie Meggs told jurors they’d hear testimony proving the project was an airplane hanger.
“You’re going to see as this project developed and as it moved through the process, evidence of fraud and deception and false pretense and misappropriation,” said Meggs.
The defense says those plans were scrapped once the legislature was told the state had no money for special projects….
“You’ll see an email from Bob Richburg to Ray Sansom saying, ‘Jay understands he has to build his own FBO with his own money,” said Sansom.
Former Governor Charlie Crist is on the witness list. He’s expected to testify late in the week. Sansom’s time as speaker was short lived. He took the leadership roll in November of 2009 and resigned under pressure from his own party in February of 2010.
[UPDATE] 3-21 Noon -- by Julie Montanaro
It's day one in the conspiracy trial of former Florida House Speaker Ray Sansom. He and a campaign contributor are accused of defrauding the people of Florida to the tune of 6 million dollars.
Ray Sansom was once one of the most powerful lawmakers in Florida, now he is facing 2 felonies. A jury must decide if it was a $6,000,000 appropriations deal with a representative simply trying to help his district, or a representative committing a crime.
Ray Sansom is now on trial for grant theft and conspiracy.
Prosecutors say he and Destin developer Jay Odom skirted the legislative process and misrepresented a 25,000 square foot airplane hanger for Odom's jet business as a joint classroom and emergency operations center in order to get the money.
Prosecutor Willie Meggs calls it a fraud and claims Sansom did it because Odom was a big time contributor to his campaign and the GOP.
The first witnesses are expected to testify after lunch today.
We'll have much more on Eyewitness News.
[UPDATE] 3-21 Noon -- TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) --
A lawyer for former House Speaker Ray Sansom has told jurors there's no evidence that his client could have stolen $6 million.
Openings statements began Monday in Sansom's corruption trial.
Sansom is charged with arranging to wrongfully get a $6 million
budget appropriation to build a hangar at the Destin airport at
co-defendant Jay Odom's request. The hangar was allegedly for
Attorney Stephen Dobson says the money was listed in the 2007
state budget and that required it to be reviewed for 72 hours
before lawmakers could vote on it. The money was eventually
approved, and Dobson says no one can steal an appropriation made by the Florida Legislature.
Defense lawyers say the money was for a new hurricane-proof
emergency operations center for Destin.
UPDATED 4:10 pm by Julie Montanaro
A jury has been selected in the grand theft and conspiracy trial of Ray Sansom and Jay Odom.
The jury consists of four women and two men. Two alternates were also selected.
Among the jurors chosen: an fsu student and waitress, a retired Department of Revenue employee, a business consultant and a 911 dispatcher.
Opening statements are set for Monday at 9am.
Update 10:30am -- by Julie Montanaro
An FSU political science professor was the first prospective juror questioned about publicity he had seen in the case.
He says he understood that a political donor involved in the former house speaker's career would be benefiting from the appropriation.
"I wasn't surprised by it," he said.
Defense attorneys were quick to point out that the professor called the project "a hangar" .... an issue that they say is critical to the case. The defense contends the project was proposed and approved as a joint use emergency operations center.
"Do I think any body's a thief yet? No, I don't," said a now retired legislative analyst with the Department of Revenue. "I recognize the seriousness of
it," the prospective juror said.
"The issue is more political than criminal," another prospective juror said.
"I don't think Mr. Sansom should be here today," said another prospective juror who works at FSU. He says it would be very hard for him to set aside that opinion despite any evidence presented in court. He was the first juror excused.
Updated 9:30am -- by Julie Montanaro
The jury box is now full of potential jurors.
Governor Charlie Crist, former EOC head Craig Fugate and former co-defendant Bob Richburg were among dozens of potential witnesses listed by attorneys in the opening minutes of jury selection.
About half of the prospective jurors said they had heard about the case and/or knew who Ray Sansom is. Those jurors will now be questioned individually about what they have heard.
March 18, 2011- 9:00pm -- by Julie Montanaro
Former Florida House Speaker and Destin developer Jay Odom are now on trial for grand theft and conspiracy.
Judge Terry Lewis dismissed official misconduct charges against Sansom before potential jurors entered courtroom 3G and prosecutors dropped a remaining perjury charge against Sansom too.
Now the former house speaker and developer will stand trial for grand theft and conspiracy for their role in securing state funds for what prosecutors contend was an airport hangar for Odom.
Prospective jurors are now entering courtroom 3G.