Saturday, April 18, 2009

Northwest Florida Leaders Indicted

Northwest Florida kingpins Ray Sansom (R-Destin) and Okaloosa-Walton County college president Bob Richburg were indicted Friday on felony "public corruption" charges. Richburg also faces a second charge of perjury.
Sansom, R-Destin, was booked into the Leon County Jail on Friday afternoon and released on his own recognizance. If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison on the felony charge.
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State Attorney Willie Meggs said Richburg unconvincingly told the grand jurors that building an aircraft hangar and emergency-management complex 15 miles from the Niceville campus was a "multiuse educational facility."
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Meggs said Sansom's charge, a third-degree felony, reflects the then-House budget chief's creation of a false and fraudulent budget item that described the hangar project as a college building.
The full 10-page grand jury indictment can be read here. From the narrative "presentment" that follows the actual indictment, it's clear that the grand jury more or less considered Northwest Florida developer Jay Odom an unindicted co-conspirator. As Gannett Publishing Co.'s Tallahassee reporter puts it --
Odom, who contributed more than $1 million to the state GOP and Sansom's political causes, was not accused of any legal violation, but the grand jury said back-scratching among corporate honchos and politicians is a symptom of a deeply rooted malady.
At the root of this back-scratch was Odom's persistent efforts to find "other people's money" to finance a $6 million airplane hangar for one of his companies, Destin Jet, which he promotes as a state-of-the-art luxury private jet service. When Okaloosa County emergency managemnt personnel expressed no interest in misusing public money for Odom's company, the grand jury's narrative suggests, Odom used college president Richburg to be his cat's paw, in order to claw the $6 million out of Florida's state education appropriation:
During 2OO7 and 2008 airport officials learned about the appropriation to NWFSC [Northwest Florida State college] and the requirement by the Legislature that the college facility would be built at the Destin Airport. The college was to use a development order previously prepared by Destin Jet. The Destin Airport is located fifteen miles away from the NWFSC campus in Niceville. * * * During this meeting the NWFSC officials discussed how the building would be used. The college would have classroom space and the college could sub-lease the storage area to Destin Jet. The building essentially was the same design as Destin Jet's 2004 design, and is still an aircraft hanger. The second floor drawing now includes classrooms as opposed to office space and the first floor is now called a staging area.
The kicker is, "NWFSC does not have an aviation component in its curriculum" and "the vice-president of NWFSC responsible for construction of structures, Dr. Yancy, was not aware of the hanger project until he leamed that The Legislature had appropriated funds for it."
Your Grand Jurors have determined that the funding for this hanger can be attributed directly and solely to Speaker Designate Ray Sansom. No member of The Legislature ever saw this appropriation until it was inserted into the appropriation bill during conference between the Appropriation Chair Ray Sansom, and his senate counterpart senator, Lisa C arlton. The hanger project for a community college was the sole work of Ray Sansom, Jay Odom and Bob Richburg.
Jaded Northwest Floridians, by now, fully expect to be ripped off by developers like Jay Odom. Cronyism, corruption, and cupidity run so deep and wide among politicians at every level in the Florida panhandle that the only surprise is there's someone left still honest and courageous enough to try catching them.

But a corrupt college president -- and one who allegedly perjured himself, too? That still surprises.

It probably shouldn't. The reality of higher education is that some time ago it ceased to resemble the idyllic vision of berobed scholars, books in arm, thoughtfully wandering the tree-studded groves of academe.

The "Commercialization of Higher Education," as Derek Bok explains in a book by the same title, inevitably has compromised values "that are essential to the continued confidence and loyalty of faculty, students, alumni, and even the general public." When college presidents, in the scramble to acquire more and more money, climb into bed with developers and politicians, it's to be expected many will wake up indicted.

1 comment:

Bryan said...

Bob Richburg and the Mattie Kelley estate makes for interesting reading and a true understanding of what a slimy piece of work the president of NWFSC really is.

UWF and NWFSC share a campus in Fort Walton, except Richburg thinks that "share" means, he owns it and UWF is a share cropper for him.

Odom and Richburg are both developers, but Odom doesn't expect people to believe him.