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Carnival Operator's Plea May Signal End Of Phipps Campaign Scandal

Posted June 7, 2004

— The carnival operator chosen by agriculture commissioner Meg Scott Phipps pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in federal court Monday afternoon. In addition, his carnival operation was sanctioned by federal officials.

Morris Vivona Jr. is the eighth person charged in the Phipps campaign finance scandal. Four have gone to prison so far.

Vivona is in trouble for misleading investigators in the Phipps investigation. Vivona runs New Jersey-based Amusements of America.

The carnival operator was implicated early in the scandal for giving an illegal $6,000 cash payment to Phipps. The former agriculture commissioner is serving a four-year jail term for extortion and conspiracy.

The U.S. Attorney General's Office and Amusements of America have agreed in principle to enter into a Corporate Compliance Agreement. Under the agreement, Amusements of America will be monitored for 18 months.

"With today's guilty plea and Amusements of America's Corporate Compliance Agreement, we can announce that the investigation is complete," U.S. Attorney Frank Whitney said. "Barring unforeseen developments, there will be no further criminal charges brought by our office."

Despite the scandal, Amusements of America and the midway were a hit at the 2002 State Fair. The state cancelled the 2003 contract with the company.

Vivona's attorney said the obstruction charge is unrelated to the fair. He stands by the State Fair 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," attorney Joe Cherhire said.

Vivona's sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 7 in Greenville. He could receive a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment, a $250,000 fine and a supervised release term of three years.

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