RALEIGH, N.C. — The U.S. Attorney's Office has said the state Agriculture Department scandal was largely about selling the North Carolina State Fair to the highest bidder. Amusements of America received the 2002 State Fair contract, but now its operator faces a federal charge of obstruction of justice.
Investigators said Morris Vivona Jr. promised a big payoff to Rocky Mount businessman Norman Chambliss to gain favor with then-state Ag Commissioner Meg Scott Phipps.
Amusements of America allegedly made an illegal $6,000 cash payment to Phipps and paid for her trip to the Ohio State Fair.
Once the investigation started, officials claim Vivona and Chambliss worked together again to lie about their deals.
"They were cooperative. They did do everything they needed to do, but they didn't tell the truth about this little thing and it's coming back to haunt them," said Joe Cheshire, Vivona's attorney.
Cheshire argues the charges that his client worked to influence and obstruct the investigation are unrelated to the fair. He still stands by deal Amusements signed with Phipps.
"I think Amusements should have had the contract to prove they would put on a good fair. I think they honestly got the contract, but that's water over the dam," Cheshire said.
Following the illegal cash contributions, Meg Scott Phipps awarded the 2002 state fair to Amusements of America. Phipps is currently serving a four-year prison term on charges of extortion and conspiracy in the campaign finance scandal.
Cheshire said Vivona will plead guilty in federal court on Monday. He faces a maximum of 10 years in prison, although under sentencing guidelines, he is expected to get much less, possibly probation.
He is the eighth person charged in the Phipps scandal. Four people have received prison terms so far. Former Phipps aide Linda Saunders was released from prison earlier this week. She served three months and she has been placed under house arrest for nine months.
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