Local News

Grand Jury Hears Evidence About Ag Commissioner's Campaign

Posted September 4, 2002 5:58 a.m. EDT

— A federal grand jury is looking into the campaign of state Agriculture Commissioner Meg Scott Phipps.

Grand jurors are expected to look at evidence such as memos, canceled checks and e-mails related to Phipps' election campaign. For several weeks, state and federal agents have interviewed various people connected to her election campaign.

The State Board of Elections has already investigated the campaign and focused on misdemeanor violations of election law. The board fined the Phipps campaign $130,000.

The grand jury will also look at Phipps' selection of a new State Fair midway operator.

"My sincere hope is that the truth comes out as a result of all of this and that when the truth does come out, it shows that the commissioner simply tried to do the right thing by opening up the process to competition to improve the fair, said Assistant Agriculture Commissioner Mike Blanton, who was subpoenaed to testify in front of the grand jury.

Officials say Phipps has not been notified that she will have to appear at the hearing.

Former federal prosecutor Dan Boyce, who is not connected to the Phipps case, said grand jury proceedings are not trials. He said there is no cross examination and the prosecutor feeds the evidence to a panel that wields the power to indict.

"I've seen it turn people's lives upside down, even if they are not indicted, just having to go through the horrifying experience, having the federal government look at you and knowing that they have the power to press criminal charges against you," Boyce said.

The grand jury will determine whether there was probable cause that a crime was committed by anyone connected to the campaign. If jurors determine that there was some wrongdoing, they have the power to return indictments.

Officials say the process could take up to several months before a decision is made.