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Deputy Agriculture Commissioner Submits Resignation

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Deputy Agriculture Commissioner Mike Blanton, the top aide to former Agriculture Commissioner Meg Scott Phipps, resigned Sunday.

Attorney Sam Currin said Blanton submitted his resignation to interim Agriculture Commissioner Britt Cobb. The action came two days after Phipps resigned.

Blanton was indicted by a federal grand jury Friday on 10 counts that include perjury, witness tampering and obstruction of justice. Blanton's indictment was followed quickly by Phipps'resignation.

Blanton was the third Phipps aide to be indicted, along with Bobby McLamb and Linda Saunders.

McLamb pleaded guilty to extortion and fraud charges. Saunders, Phipps' former campaign treasurer, also admitted to similar charges.

According to the indictment, Blanton lied to FBI agents and the grand jury about his knowledge of Phipps' campaign finances and also coached a witness to lie. He could get up to 65 years in prison and $2.5 million in fines if convicted of all the charges.

The grand jury is investigating Phipps' campaign finances during her 2000 race and State Fair contracts awarded since she took office in 2001.

Currin has said Blanton maintains his innocence.

"Mike Blanton joined Meg Scott Phipps' staff after the 2000 campaign," Currin said. "He was considered a loyal employee. He has worked very hard in the department, and we're just going to work on this case to see how we can best get it resolved."

Federal prosecutors claim Blanton masterminded a coverup to protect Phipps. Currin told WRAL's Cullen Browder he will be looking carefully at the Government's evidence.

"He's been in public life for some time," Currin said of Blanton. "This is not easy for him. He's got strong character and strong will, and he will get through this."

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