Ray Sansom

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Ray Sansom
Ray Sansom.jpg
Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives
In office
November 18, 2008 – February 2, 2009
Preceded by Marco Rubio
Succeeded by Larry Cretul
Member of the Florida House of Representatives
from the 4 district
In office
2002-2010
Personal details
Born (1962-07-11) July 11, 1962 (age 52)
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Tricia Raimey
Religion Baptist

Ray Sansom (born July 11, 1962, in Fort Walton Beach, Florida) was a member of the Florida House of Representatives, representing portions of Okaloosa and Santa Rosa counties from 2002 to February 21, 2010.

Sansom is married to Tricia Raimey Sansom and they have three children. Sansom lists his religious affiliation as Baptist and actively attended Wright Baptist Church in Fort Walton Beach, FL for many years.[1]

Sansom received his Bachelors degree in Political Science from the Florida State University in 1984 and his Masters in Education from the University of West Florida in 1993. Prior to his election to the Florida House of Representatives, he served on the Okaloosa County Board of Commissioners from 1992 to 2000. He received the Okaloosa County Management Association's Presidents Award in 1999 and the Association of Counties, Freshman of the Year award in 2003.[2]

Sansom was elected Speaker of the Florida House on November 18, 2008. He temporarily stepped down on January 30, 2009, following a scandal over accepting an unadvertised job. On February 2, Sansom formally resigned the speakership just minutes before his caucus was due to oust him.[3][4]

Sansom has been formally charged with third-degree felony grand theft and conspiracy. He resigned on the eve of his criminal trial for misappropriation of state tax dollars. If Sansom had remained at his post, he could have been the first lawmaker "expelled from the Chamber in nearly 50 years".[5]

Early Political Career[edit]

Prior to his election to the Florida House of Representatives, Sansom served on the Okaloosa County Board of Commissioners from 1992 to 2000. He received the Okaloosa County Management Association's Presidents Award in 1999.[2]

1n 2008, Sansom was one of the driving forces pushing to create an "oversight board for community colleges that emphasizes undergraduate education". This proposal received resistance from some community college presidents who were not for the change and also from private colleges who offered 4-year degrees on these community college campuses.[6]

Also in 2008, Sansom was appointed Vice President for Development and Planning at NWF State College - his former alma mater from his hometown. The college's Board of Trustees appointed Sansom to this position. This was the same week Sansom was sworn in as the Florida Speaker of the House.[7]

In response to his appointment, Sansom said, "The work that I will be doing at Northwest Florida State College is something I've been preparing for throughout my career. I'm honored and excited to be associated with an institution that's at the forefront of educating the workforce that will sustain the economy of northwest Florida well into the future. Beyond that, it means a lot to me to return to an institution that my wife and I both attended as students and that enabled me to get a college education. Throughout my time in the Legislature, I have tried to help the college grow and prosper, precisely because its success is so important to the future of our region."[8]

One of his duties, as outlined by College President Bob Richburg, would be to assist with "...formalizing agreements with local governments for training emergency personnel and for the use of the college's Community Services Complex during times of natural disaster. The 120,000 square--foot facility, currently under construction on the college's Niceville campus, will house the Okaloosa County 911 Emergency Operations Center, college athletic and instructional programs, and serve as the county's primary hurricane shelter. Sansom's new role will include leading the conferencing and training efforts of the college, including statewide training opportunities related to the joint use facility."[8]

However, it was this appointment and specifically, this area of his responsibility, that would subsequently raise questions and eventually led to Sansom's arrest.

Scandal and College resignation[edit]

In December 2008, a resident of Clearwater, Florida, filed a complaint against Sansom asserting that Northwest Florida State College rewarded Sansom with a $110,000/year job in return for funneling millions of dollars towards his constituency's hometown college—even amid statewide budget cuts.[9] The Herald/Times also documented how over the past two years, as Sansom was in charge of the Florida House budget, he secured about $35 million in extra or accelerated funding for Northwest Florida State. According to several Florida news journals, some of this money also paid for the creation of Sansom's vice-president post at the college.[10]

According to the Orlando Sentinel, there was also a $6 million appropriation for an "education facility" for the same college.[9] However, according to several Florida newspapers, the money actually went to build an airport hangar on land owned by a friend and campaign contributor. In the same time period, other allegations developed surrounding Sansom's involvement with the college—including e-mails from college President to Sansom discussing how to hold public meetings in private. Local celebrity and past United States Congressman Joe Scarborough wrote an editorial published in the Pensacola News Journal discrediting Sansom and his ethics.[11]

On January 6, 2009, Sansom resigned from his post as vice president of development at Northwest Florida State College amidst statewide criticism.[12]

On January 10, 2009, Rep. Sansom wrote an open letter, published in his district's newspaper, the Northwest Florida Daily News, to clarify his position.[13]

On January 30, under growing pressure from his fellow Republicans, Sansom announced that under a little-known House rule, he would temporarily "recuse" himself from his authority as Speaker. Under that rule, Speaker Pro Tem Larry Cretul, Sansom's roommate while the House is in session, was due to serve as acting Speaker in Sansom's absence.[14]

This was not enough for his fellow Republicans, who met on the night of February 2 to remove Sansom from the speakership. However, while that meeting was underway, Sansom resigned as leader of the House Republican caucus, a post which automatically made him Speaker since the Republicans have a large majority in the chamber. Cretul was unanimously elected his successor, and is virtually assured of being formally elected Speaker on March 3, the first day of the regular legislative session.[3]

Criminal charges[edit]

In April, 2009, a grand jury indicted Samson, Bob Richburg, former president of Northwest Florida State College, and Jay Odom, businessman and a major GOP contributor. They were charged with official misconduct, a third-degree felony which could result in a five year prison sentence. A circuit judge dismissed most of the charges in October and an appellate court reaffirmed the judge's ruling on the last day of 2009.[15]

On January 6, 2010, the Leon County State Attorney Willie Meggs charged the trio with grand theft and conspiracy. When asked why those charges weren't filed initially, Meggs stated that he thought the original charges and penalty were appropriate. "You can kill a fly with a fly swat, or you can kill one with a sledgehammer."[15] When the judge gutted the first case, Meggs refused to drop it. "I cannot in my mind as a prosecutor put a pretty face on this. It's just not right."[15]

As of August 2010, Meggs himself went on trial for what opposing counsel says was "unethical behavior". Attorneys for Sansom and his co-defendants in the criminal trial - former college President Bob Richburg and developer Jay Odom - want Meggs removed from the case for "prosecutorial misconduct". Testimony from both sides concluded on Friday August 20 but lawyers have up to one month to submit closing arguments, after which time Judge Terry Lewis will decide if Meggs will remain on the case.[16]

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.[17]

Florida Taj Mahal scandal[edit]

The Florida Taj Mahal scandal is also linked to Ray Sansom. The Taj Mahal is a name which Florida judges have attached to the extremely expensive and lavish First District Court of Appeal of Florida courthouse while their budgets were cut. After Florida Senator Charles S. Dean, Sr. (R) Inverness denied funds for the new courthouse, the legislative process was "bumped-up" to the Appropriations Chairman Ray Sansom and Rep. Marco Rubio (R) Miami, now a U.S. Senator. The final budget included $7.9 million to begin planning and construction of the courthouse.[18]

On August 30, 2010 Chief Financial Officer of Florida Alex Sink sent letters to the Florida Supreme Court and Florida's Department of Management Services that preliminary findings warranted an audit via her DFS, Bureau of Auditing for excessive spending on the courthouse. The CFO's office states that money may have been misused and as much as $16 million may have spent in a financial raid on the state's Workers' Compensation Trust Fund.[19] A $30 million bond for construction was attached to a transportation bill and passed on last day of the 2007 legislative session insuring it would pass.

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