Embattled Fla. House speaker steps down for now - East Valley Tribune: Nation / World

Embattled Fla. House speaker steps down for now

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Posted: Friday, January 30, 2009 5:55 pm

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - The speaker of Florida's House of Representatives said Friday he is stepping down temporarily to deal with a probe into his hiring by a state college for which he obtained millions of dollars in funding.

Speaker Ray Sansom said fellow Republican Larry Cretul of Ocala will replace him for now. Sansom will continue representing the Florida Panhandle resort city of Destin as a regular House member.

He faces grand jury and state ethics commission investigations after taking a $110,000-a-year job as the chief fundraiser for Northwest Florida State College on Nov. 18, the same day he became speaker. Critics charge Sansom was given the job as payback for channeling more than $25 million in state funds to the school - 25 times the amount state education officials had originally allocated.

Sansom, who has served in the Legislature since 2002, stepped down from the university job earlier this month. Before he took that job, he had been an economic development official for a utility.

"The allegations and reports associated with these proceedings have caused my family grave pain," Sansom said in a statement Friday to House members. "I expect positive outcomes and am confident that when the facts are known, my honesty and integrity will be confirmed."

He has also been accused of putting $6 million in the 2007 state budget for an aircraft hangar to benefit a political supporter.

Sansom conceded the controversies made it impossible to be effective in the speaker's job with the 2009 session convening in just over a month.

"The attention now will leave Speaker Sansom's legal difficulties," said Rep. William Snyder, R-Stuart.

Republican Gov. Charlie Crist agreed in a statement from his office, noting "there is important work ahead of us."

Sansom has hired a former state prosecutor to help with the grand jury investigation and a Tallahassee attorney to assist with the ethics complaints.

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