Local News

Former Phipps' Aide Pleads Guilty To Fraud Conspiracy, Extortion

Posted March 31, 2003 6:13 a.m. EST

— Bobby McLamb, who ran for Agriculture commissioner against Meg Scott Phipps, then joined her campaign when she won the Democratic nomination, pleaded guilty Monday to fraud conspiracy and extortion charges.

McLamb pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail or wire fraud, and one count of extortion by a public official.

He said little in the brief hearing in before U.S. District Judge Malcolm J. Howard.

McLamb could get up to 25 years in prison and a $500,000 fine at his sentencing, which was scheduled for July 7.

David Long, McLamb's attorney, said he and his client have been cooperative with federal authorities.

"We have talked to them. We will continue to talk to them. If those pieces incriminate somebody, then they incriminate somebody, but I don't know if they will or they won't," said David Long, McLamb's attorney.

"Any time a defendant pleads guilty in a complex case like this, it definitely allows us to go forward in the investigation," U.S. attorney Frank Whitney said.

McLamb was charged in an indictment that outlined a scheme in which he and Phipps' campaign treasurer, Linda Saunders, allegedly diverted contributions intended for Phipps to help pay some of McLamb's campaign debt.

McLamb lost to Phipps in the Democratic primary in 2000 and, when he then joined her campaign, Phipps said she would help him repay what he owed.

Saunders faces a variety of charges related to the alleged scheme, with a possible maximum sentence of 175 years and fines totaling $5 million.

Phipps has not been charged, though federal prosecutors say the investigation continues and more people could be charged.

During a hearing before the state Board of Elections last year, Phipps repeatedly denied knowing about her campaign's payments toward McLamb's loans. But the indictment said Phipps called and wrote to Centura Bank, where McLamb owed $75,000, asking that the loan be extended.

The State Board of Election last June fined Phipps' campaign $130,000. The board said the campaign had taken $84,202 in cash from donors it could not identify and more than $14,000 in illegal corporate contributions.

Phipps is the first female agriculture commissioner in the state, the daughter of one Democratic governor and granddaughter of another Democrat who was governor and U.S. senator.