- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 4, 2015

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - The Florida House announced Tuesday that state lawmakers and lawyers for former House Speaker Ray Sansom have reached an agreement to pay $600,000 in taxpayer money to cover legal fees in his defense against corruption charges.

A circuit judge had initially ruled that taxpayers were liable for more than $800,000, but Sansom’s lawyers and the Florida House reached a settlement that lowered the final amount.

“I respect the court’s ruling and am pleased that we could reach a settlement that is significantly less than the judgment and will end all further litigation on this matter,” said House Speaker Steve Crisafulli in a statement on Tuesday.

Sansom, a Destin Republican, was accused of scheming with a wealthy political supporter, Ray Odom, and former Northwest Florida State College President Bob Richburg to add $6 million to the 2007 state budget for an airplane hangar at the Destin airport to benefit Odom, who operated a private jet service.

The defendants maintained the building was actually an emergency operations facility and training center for the school. Only $309,000 of the money was spent on the project. Richburg accepted a deal to pay a third of that amount and testify against the other two. But the case collapsed in 2011 when a judge ruled Richburg couldn’t testify as a co-conspirator.

After the charges were dropped, Sansom sued to have the state pay his legal fees, something that is allowed under Florida law for public officials found innocent of corruption. Lawyers for the state argued unsuccessfully that Sansom tacitly admitted guilt when he accepted a plea deal.

Leon County Circuit Judge Angela Dempsey ruled in February that taxpayers were liable for the fees. She later set the amount of fees the state must pay at more than $810,000.

In February, Sansom claimed that State Attorney Willie Meggs had “overstepped his bounds” by prosecuting him. But Meggs earlier this year defended his decision to pursue the case and called the facility a misuse of money.

Sansom stepped down as speaker and resigned from the Legislature immediately before an ethics hearing that could have removed him.


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