Former House Speaker files ethics lawsuit against prosecutor

Complaint alleges state attorney “manipulated’’ the process to get 
to get indictments against the former Speaker of the House.

Article Courtesy of The Miami Herald

By Alex Leary

Published August 22, 2011


Former Florida House Speaker Ray Sansom said he’s filed an ethics complaint against the state prosecutor who pursued criminal charges against him over his dealings with a Panhandle college. 

The complaint contains six allegations against State Attorney Willie Meggs, including that he “manipulated” the grand jury process to get indictments and released testimony that was not public, according to the Northwest Florida Daily News. 

“He led the grand jury to an indictment,” Sansom told the newspaper. 

The Florida Commission on Ethics would not say Thursday whether it has received the complaint, as is standard practice. (Sansom told the newspaper he mailed it Wednesday.) The commission will have to agree to pursue the case or dismiss it. 

Meggs dropped the case against Sansom and a co-defendant, developer Jay Odom, mid-trial in March, saying he could not continue due to the judge limiting testimony from a key witness. Sansom and Odom each paid $103,000 restitution without admission of guilt. 

The men were indicted on grand theft charges for allegedly conspiring to secure $6 million in state funding for an airport building Odom wanted to use for his Destin Jet business. 

The money was awarded to Northwest Florida State College, where Sansom would later take a $110,000 job after helping the school receive tens of millions in extra or accelerated funding. Sansom got the job on the same day he was sworn in as House speaker in November 2008. He denied a quid pro quo. 

At one point in the investigation, the Leon County State Attorney’s Office released grand jury testimony to news organizations, including the St. Petersburg Times, a violation. Meggs later said it was done on accident while he was away. 

Sansom raised the same issues in a motion filed with the circuit court prior to the trial. The judge faulted Meggs’ behavior in the case — including inflammatory statements he made to the news media — but said it did not amount to prosecutorial misconduct and declined to dismiss the criminal charges. 

In his new complaint, Sansom also raised the question whether Meggs worked on the case while he briefly retired in December 2008 under a state program that allows longtime state employees to “retire’’ by taking 30 days off and return to work in their old jobs with a salary and a pension. 

On Jan 7, 2009, Meggs said that, based on two citizen complaints, he would ask a grand jury whether it wanted to investigate Sansom’s dealings with the college. The grand jury met Jan. 26 and decided to launch an investigation. 

Meggs said Thursday he had not received a copy of Sansom’s complaint and could not fully respond. He denied he worked on the case during his time away. “I did work during the DROP period,” he said, using the acronym for the Deferred Retirement Option Program. “I was building a fence at my house.” 

He said the other allegations have “already been litigated” and maintained he had not acted improperly. “I’ve done nothing but done my job.” 

The Ethics Commission also investigated Sansom’s dealings with the college. But the commission earlier this month dropped the case because Sansom had resigned from the House (on the eve of a trial before his peers) and because the criminal charges were dropped.