JaxPoliticsOnline.com

Observations and musings on Jacksonville Politics

FBI Now Looking Into Former House Speaker

Ray Sansom, the Republican Speaker of the Florida House who stepped aside earlier this year after being indicted on felony charges by a Tallahassee Grand Jury, now faces the prospects of an FBI investigation.  According to the St. Petersburg Times, the FBI has begun inquiring about the case and is beginning to collect documents.

The case involves an appropriation that Sansom singularly directed to benefit Jay Odom, a panhandle-area developer, and Northwest Florida State College.  Odom is a big-time contributor to the Republican Party of Florida, donating more than $1 million to the party.  He, Sansom and Bob Richburg, the former president of Northwest Florida State College, all currently face state charges.

Filed under: Florida, Florida Legislature, Florida Politics, , , , ,

How to Double Dip (Or, how it used to be legal)

The state’s new law forbidding double dipping, the art of drawing both a pension and a paycheck from government, appears likely to become law assuming Charlie Crist signs it—something he has previously said he will do.  No one; however, better personifies the art of double dipping than Bob Richburg, the former president of Northwest Florida State College.  Richburg, who was fired last week after being indicted in a scandal involving former House Speaker Ray Sansom (R-Niceville), was a double dipper of the highest order.

According to the St. Pete Times, Richburg had briefly resigned from his position as president of NFSC in 2007, receiving a lump sum payout of $553,228 and a monthly pension benefit of $8,803.  Richburg was then immediately re-hired to the same position.  He continued to collect his monthly pension, kept his lump sum payout and also began collecting his new salary of $228,000 a year.  And, Floridians wonder why the state is going broke?

This situation alone perfectly illustrates why it was time for Florida to address double dipping.  More on who will be affected by the new law can be found here.

Filed under: Florida, Florida Legislature, Florida Politics, , ,

J. D. Alexander Gets Special Budget Treatment

Well, here we are again.  Another leader in the state budget process has slipped last minute money to a preferred recipient.  Previously, it was Ray Sansom directing money to Northwest Florida State College, something that eventually cost him the Speakership and led to an indictment.  This year, it’s Republican Senator  J. D. Alexander securing a last minute $5 million request for USF’s Lakeland campus.  

This last minute request is truly amazing in light of the fact that the state is expected to cut millions from higher education funding, and the request (at least in this dollar amount) was not part of the funding recommendations forwarded by the state’s Board of Governors.

This just serves to further highlight the fact that there is no equity in the budgeting process in Tallahassee—it truly depends on who you know.

Filed under: Florida, Florida Legislature, Florida Politics, , , , ,

The Rise and Fall of Ray Sansom and his Cronies

Today, the trustees of the Northwest Florida State College voted to return the $6 million Panhandle legislator Ray Sansom obtained for them secretly (less $300,000 the college already spent, that is).  They also voted to fire Bob Richburg, the college president and Sansom’s close buddy.   No punishment so far for Jay Odom who would have benfitted from the college’s airplane hangar.

Read the rest of the story here.

Filed under: Florida, Florida Legislature, Florida Politics, , , , ,

Grand Jury: Keep on investigating Ray Sansom

A grand jury in Tallahassee this afternoon told investigators to keep looking into Rep. Ray Sansom and the job he took at Northwest Florida State College after securing millions in state construction money for the school.

“We don’t know where it will go, but it’s going to keep going,” State Attorney Willie Meggs said.

An assistant state attorney gave the jury an update on the Sansom case, apparently focusing today on possible Sunshine Law violations concerning a meeting between the college trustees, president Bob Richburg and Sansom last March.  [St. Pete Times]

In related news,

Jay Odom has resigned from the board of directors for Citizens Property Insurance Corp., the state-run insurer, citing “time constraints” with his family.

Odom, 52, sent a letter to the board and Senate President Jeff Atwater announcing his resignation. Odom was last appointed to Citizens by then-Senate President Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie.

The news comes on the same day the Republican Party of Florida said it is no longer contracting jet services from Odom.

Odom is considered to be a subject in the grand jury investigation into Rep. Ray Sansom’s dealings with Northwest Florida State College. [St. Pete Times]

Filed under: Florida, Florida Legislature, Florida Politics, , , , , ,

Sansom’s jet hangar

Well, a few rocks have been turned over on Sansom’s jet hangar and look what’s been found. 

Although Destin Jet is about to open and Jay Odom has known for more than a year that a college building will go up instead of his maintenance facility, he has yet to tell county officials how he’ll meet their FAA-recommended mandate to offer repair service. [St. Pete Times]

Hmmm….maybe Odom and Sansom did intend for him to use that facility for his jets after all.

Filed under: Florida, Florida Legislature, Florida Politics, , , , , ,

Sansom grand jury convenes today

A grand jury today will consider Ray Bellamy’s ethics complaint against Ray Sansom.  Bellamy filed his with the North Florida state attorney, Willie Meggs, after a series of newspaper reports that the 46-year-old politician might have used his power to secure a six-figure job and approve state funding for a political benefactor’s project.

“Somebody has got to stop this,” Bellamy said, “or it’s going to become the standard for future House speakers and legislators.”

Since he was sworn in as House speaker on Nov. 18, Sansom has been the target of two ethics complaints – in addition to the grand jury inquiry – that question whether he was offered a $110,000-per-year job at Northwest Florida State College as payback for securing the school – about the size of Indian River State College – tens of millions of dollars in construction projects.

Also at question is Sansom’s role in one project in particular: $6 million from the state to build Northwest Florida State an emergency training facility 16 miles from its Niceville campus on land leased by Destin Jet.

The company’s owner, Jay Odom, who has contributed more than $100,000 to Sansom’s political committees, had hoped the training facility would double as a jet hangar. News of the hangar was first reported by the St. Petersburg Times.

Sansom also is facing questions from Attorney General Bill McCollum, a fellow Republican whose office confirmed last week it is looking into whether Sansom and Northwest Florida State President James “Bob” Richburg tried to skirt state open-meeting laws to strategize about legislation that would transform the school from a community college to a state college. [Palm Beach Post]

Filed under: Florida, Florida Legislature, Florida Politics, , , , , , , ,

Ray “I’m clean” Sansom now hires criminal attorney

Despite his protestations about being clean, Ray Sansom has hired one of the best known criminal defense lawyers in Tallahassee and elsewhere – Peter Antonacci.  Antonacci will be defending Mr. Clean in possible state and federal investigations into the dealings of the Sansom, Bob Richburg and the trustees of NW Florida State College. 

Antonacci once worked for Meggs [the local State Attorney conducting the state investigation into Sansom], handling public corruption prosecutions. In recent years, he has become the go-to guy for Republicans in trouble.

In 2002, then-Gov. Jeb Bush called on Antonacci to represent his daughter, Noelle, on charges that she had forged a prescription for Xanax.

Antonacci is currently a senior lawyer in the Tallahassee office of Gray-Robinson, one of Florida’s best-known law firms. Antonacci, like Coates, was a lobbyist before the Florida Legislature in 2008. [St. Pete Times]

If you recall, Sansom has already hired Richard Coates (mentioned in the quote above) to represent him on the ethics complaint that has been lodged against him.  Btw, the Ethics Commission found the ethics complaint against Sansom legally sufficient on Friday.  Now a preliminary investigation into the ethics charges will occur.

Sansom has repeatedly issued blanket denials of any wrongdoing, but the St. Pete Times has called him out again in an editorial today saying the only thing convincing about Sansom’s denials is the underscoring of the need for criminal investigations into the matter. 

So if Sansom is Mr. Clean, I can’t help but wonder this:  Why does he need to hire two big gun attorneys to represent him?

Filed under: Florida, Florida Legislature, Florida Politics, , , , , , , , , , ,

Florida’s Version of the Rose Law Firm Billing Records

Florida’s House Speaker Ray Sansom (R-Destin) finds himself recreating the infamous scenario of the missing Rose Law Firm billing records. The Speaker has been criticized for a meeting with the Trustees of Northwest Florida State College that appears to have been designed to circumvent the Sunshine Law as no minutes were apparently taken. Now, 10 months after the meeting, the meeting minutes have suddenly appeared. Of course, they appeared after a newspaper editorial called on Attorney General Bill McCollum to investigate whether the meeting (and its lack of minutes) violated the state’s sunshine laws. Interestingly enough, Sansom’s recollection of the meeting and the minutes from the meeting appear to be at odds. Sansom referred to the meeting as “one of the most productive meetings” he had ever been involved with. The minutes simply say that “no action was taken.” The story, from the St. Pete Times, can be found here.

Filed under: Florida Legislature, Florida Politics, , ,

St. Pete Times busts Sansom – again

It seems that our lovely Speaker of the House, Ray “Criminole” Sansom, decided he needed to defend himself and so wrote an op-ed piece that appeared in the Northwest Florida Daily News today.  Unfortunately, he neglected to mention a few salient facts in his defense of himself.  Not to worry though, the St. Pete Times (which originally broke this whole story) has busted him again

Sansom: 

“It’s true that earlier this year I supported the college’s successful efforts to obtain accelerated funding for construction projects. The money for those projects came from a fund that, by law, can be used only for school construction funding. In other words, there was no choice to be made between the college’s projects and, for example, K-12 classrooms, law enforcement or health care for the poor.”

St. Pete Times:

Sansom uses the word “accelerated” but fails to explain that the Department of Education had recommended $1-million for the project and that he increased it to $25.5-million — the single largest award for a college in 2008.

He also fails to note that $7.5-million of the $25.5-million was not included in the DOE recommendations — a fact illustrated in this memo obtained by the Times/Herald.

The $7.5 million is going to build a “leadership institute” at the college.

Sansom does not say that he inserted $750,000 in start-up money for the leadership institute, a maneuver that irritated then-Speaker Marco Rubio because he was not aware it had been done until too late. Sansom was the budget chairman for the 2007 and 2008 sessions — at which time the small college in Niceville got about $35-million in new or accelerated funding.

What’s more, Sansom does not address the $6-million he inserted into the budget in 2007 for a project at Destin Airport that is remarkably similar to a $6-million airport hangar once sought by his friend Jay Odom.

That, too, was not on the DOE list for public education capital outlay funding, state officials have confirmed for the Times/Herald.

As Scott Maxwell said in his column in the Orlando Sentinel earlier this week:

You quit the wrong job, Mr. Speaker.  

Filed under: Florida, Florida Legislature, Florida Politics, , , , ,

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