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Phipps To Spend Four Years In Prison For State Ag Department Scandal

Posted March 2, 2004

— A judge sentenced former state Ag Commissioner Meg Scott Phipps to 48 months in prison Tuesday for her role in a campaign finance scandal.

Phipps will also have two years of supervised probation and must pay a $25,000 fine.

U.S. District Court Judge Malcolm Howard read the sentence to Phipps Tuesday during the 30-minute hearing in a Greenville courtroom. She was taken into custody by U.S. Marshals after the verdict was read.

"She has paid a huge price. I can't imagine anyone suffering more or losing more than she did," said Wade Smith, Phipps' attorney.

Phipps will spend time in the Pitt County Jail before being transferred to a state prison to be determined by state Department of Correction officials. Once she is in the state prison, she will then most likely be transferred to a federal prison either in West Virginia or Florida.

Phipps admitted that she accepted thousands of dollars in illegal cash payments, doctored campaign finance reports to cover it up and extorted money from carnival operators with the promise of state fair contracts.

In November, Phipps pleaded guilty to five federal charges related to campaign fraud -- two for extortion, two for mail fraud and one for conspiracy. Prosecutors had wanted Phipps to spend 57 months in prison.

"Her corruption was extensive. She started it almost on the day she threw her hat into the ring and it went on until her indictment several years later," assistant U.S. attorney Dennis Duffy said.

Phipps showed little emotion in the courtroom Tuesday except for a moment when her 12-year-old and 14-year-old children were mentioned. Phipps' father, former Gov. Bob Scott, left the courthouse without comment, as did Phipps' husband, Robert Phipps.

"The sad thing is Ms. Phipps' children are going to suffer because of Ms. Phipps' conduct, not because of the sentence the judge handed down today," U.S. attorney Frank Whitney said.

Three other Phipps' aides face sentencing on Wednesday.

Linda Saunders, Bobby McLamb, Mike Blanton all pleaded guilty to charges connected to the scandal and testified against Phipps. Federal prosecutors suggest they each spend some time in prison and some time under house arrest. Their recommended sentences range from 13 to 18 months.

On Monday, the government charged former Deputy Commissioner Weldon Denny with lying to the FBI and fair operator Norman Chambliss with obstruction of justice. They are expected in court next month.


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