TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ Former Rep. Ray Sansom, who resigned as Florida House speaker when he was facing unrelated corruption allegations, on Wednesday denied he had anything to do with a privately run state prison that a federal grand jury is investigating.
The Destin Republican said he never discussed the project with Boca Raton-based GEO Group, which won a contract to build and operate the $140 million Blackwater River Correctional Facility in the Panhandle near Milton.
“If there’s one project I cannot take credit for, it’s that project,” Sansom told The Associated Press.
The Pensacola News Journal (http://bit.ly/qOmkf6 ) reported the FBI has served subpoenas seeking legislative travel vouchers for Sansom and records from a former aide.
The FBI also has served subpoenas on the Santa Rosa Board of County Commissioners and Team Santa Rosa, the county’s economic development agency, for records and agents Tuesday seized a computer used by two of the commissioners.
Special Agent Jeff Westcott in Jacksonville declined comment, noting grand jury investigations are supposed to be secret.
Sansom resigned as speaker in 2009 and from the House in 2010. He said he believes the investigation resulted from a complaint to the FBI last year from a state worker who was worried about being laid off as a result of the private prison project. Blackwater is virtually next door to a state-run prison, the Santa Rosa Correctional Institution.
The travel vouchers include a trip that Sansom, then the House’s budget chairman, took to Boca Raton in March 2008 for what was listed as personal business. Sansom said he didn’t even realize until a few weeks ago that GEO was headquartered there. He said he took the trip to hold leadership meetings with other lawmakers.
“I did not meet with any company while I was in Boca Raton,” Sansom said.
Sansom the next month added $110 million to the 2008-09 appropriations bill for an addition to the Graceville Correctional Facility, also in the Panhandle. That place then was also operated by GEO but now is run by Corrections Corporation of America.
That provision later was removed in committee. Sansom then added another $110 million for a private prison without specifying a location. That was used to fund the Blackwater facility.
Sansom resigned as speaker in 2009 after the St. Petersburg Times reported he had steered $26 million to Northwest Florida State College before being hired by the school on the same day he became speaker in November 2008.
A state grand jury indictment subsequently accused him of scheming to appropriate $6 million to the college for a building at the Destin Airport allegedly for use as a hangar by friend and political supporter, Jay Odom.
Prosecutors in March dropped corruption charges against Sansom, Odom and former college president Bob Richburg after a judge rejected a key witness and the defendants agreed to pay $300,000 in restitution.
Santa Rosa Commissioner Jim Melvin said the FBI on Tuesday took a computer that he and his predecessor, former Commissioner Gordon Goodin, had used. Melvin defeated Gooden in last year’s election.
Melvin and Gooden said they had no idea why the FBI wanted the computer.
The subpoenas served on the county indicate the grand jury is looking into more than just the prison. The panel is seeking files on various land deals, an ambulance contract, trips taken by commissioners and construction of a new courthouse as well as contracts, vouchers and correspondence between the county and Sansom.
They ask for custodians of those records to present them to the grand jury on Sept. 27.