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Interim Ag Commissioner Voids State Fair Contract

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Interim Agriculture Commissioner Britt Cobbthrew out the state's contract with fair operator Amusements ofAmerica on Tuesday

Cobb's decision comes after he was advised by State Attorney General Roy Cooper to terminate the contract.

According to a statement released by the State Attorney General's Office, "It is in the best interest of the people of North Carolina that the cloud of suspicion be removed and that the Commissioner void the current State Fair contract."

Amusements of America was selected by former Ag Commissioner Meg Scott Phipps to run the midway at the State Fair. Phipps later resigned her post after allegations involving campaign finance charges and illegal loan payments.

No one with Amusements of America has been indicted in the controversy, but the family who runs Amusements of America was named in indictments involving members of Phipps' campaign staff.

The New Jersey-based company would be unlikely to give up thecontract for the State Fair, which opens Oct. 17, without a fight.Last year, Amusements of America took in $2.4 million from ridesalone and likely made tens of thousands more from games and foodconcessions.

Joseph B. Cheshire V, a Raleigh lawyer representing Amusementsof America, could not be reached Tuesday for comment.

Cobb, who was appointed to replace Phipps, said in a release issued Tuesday that he intends tohave a carnival operator selected by July 31 using a new biddingprocess that will start Monday. Operators will have until July 25to submit their bids.

Federal investigators began an investigation of the 2000 Phippscampaign several months ago. The most recent indictment, of DeputyCommissioner Mike Blanton on June 6, prompted the resignations ofboth Blanton and Phipps.

The indictments alleged that Amusements of America and severalother carnival companies funneled thousands of dollars to thePhipps campaign and that an Amusements official participated inhigh-level department meetings, paid for trips for Phipps andhelped in the selection of the midway company.

The state's contract with Amusements of America has a clauserequiring that "Amusements shall comply with all federal, stateand local laws, rules and ordinances, and shall require the samecompliance by its sublessees, assigns, agents, employees andinvitees, and all other persons over whom Amusements has authorityto control."

According to Blanton's indictment, at least three other carnivalcompanies -- Fair Management Inc. of Florida and Jenks Concessionsand Smokey Mountain Amusements, both based in North Carolina -- alsomade illegal contributions.


Cullen Browder, Reporter
Kamal Wallace, Web Editor

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