Local News

Strates Shows Files Federal Lawsuit

Posted September 21, 2004

— A lawsuit piggybacks on the criminal investigation that brought down former Ag Commissioner Meg Scott Phipps and several others. Strates Shows, which ruled the North Carolina State Fair midway for more than 50 years, cites fraud, conspiracy and unfair trade practices.

The lawsuit reads like a who's who of the scandal that reached from the top of the Agriculture Department to the heart of the fair industry: former Commissioner Meg Scott Phipps, now serving a four-year prison term; her ex-assistants Bobby McLamb, Linda Saunders, Mike Blanton and Weldon Denny; carnival operator Jimmy Drew; businessman Norman Chambliss; and Amusements of America, which took over the state fair midway from Strates in 2002.

The Strates lawsuit chronicles much of the FBI investigation that found thousands of illegal campaign contributions funneled to Phipps followed by a series of lies to cover up the scheme.

Attorneys describe a meeting where an official with Amusements of America proclaimed they "owned the Ag commissioner."

Strates Shows claims the carnival company was substantially damaged when it unfairly lost the contract. By phone, finance director Jay Strates told WRAL, "This is one of the most egregious abuses of the system I've ever seen. The lawsuit is the only tool we have."

In 2002, Strates settled an administrative appeal with the state for $50,000. This lawsuit is different because it targets individuals for unspecified damages and attorney's fees.

One attorney told WRAL that it could take years to determine who is liable, who has money, and who does not.

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