Local News

Phipps Released From Federal Custody After Hearing

Posted September 8, 2003 4:59 a.m. EDT

— Former state Agriculture Commissioner Meg Scott Phipps turned herself in on federal charges Monday.

Phipps, who faces 28 federal charges, including conspiracy, extortion and bribery, arrived at the Federal Courthouse in Raleigh at 12:30 p.m.

After exiting the car in which she arrived, Phipps was handcuffed and led into the courthouse where she was booked and read her rights.

The charges are related to Phipps' campaign finances and her alleged dealings with Midway operators for the State Fair. Twenty-three of the felony counts carry a maximum prison penalty of 20 years each. The remaining five carry prison terms of five to 10 years.

Phipps was later released after her 2 p.m. hearing. Roger Smith, Phipps' attorney, said her client was calm and collected throughout the day.

"I think you see someone who is full aware of the gravity of what's going on today and of what lies down the road ahead and I think that explains her calm demeanor," said Roger Smith, Phipps' attorney.

Phipps resigned in June after three former aides were indicted as a result of a federal probe examining whether her campaign solicited illegal campaign contributions from carnival companies. A month later, she was charged in state court with perjury and obstruction of justice.

Former federal prosecutor and Raleigh city councilman Kieran Shanahan said Phipps will go to prison if convicted, but she probably would not serve more than a few years behind bars.

"The thought of going to jail to anybody who has had a respected position and elected position even for a day can be like 100 years," he said.

Smith said the whole situation is a case of shattered dreams.

"It was one of her dreams. She wanted to go and be a great commissioner and obviously, all of that fell apart and so sure, she's feeling great regret over how her dream turned out," he said.

The potential sentence may be reduced by the fact that Phipps has no prior criminal record and that the alleged bribery alleged is less than $30,000. Although, if prosecutors prove Phipps took advantage of her public position, that could increase the sentence. Federal judges have sentencing guidelines to follow, but they may go above the suggested range if they see fit.