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Former Ag Commissioner Charged With Perjury, Obstruction

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Former Agriculture Commissioner Meg Scott Phipps was charged Tuesday with perjury, obstruction of justice and other crimes.

A Wake County grand jury indicted Phipps on five counts, three of which are perjury-related. The counts stem from the state Board of Elections hearings, during which investigators contend Phipps lied to them.Phipps also faces an obstruction of justice indictment and a conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice.

"These charges arose out of a joint investigation of state andfederal officials. The investigation is ongoing and it is likely wewill present other information to the grand jury in the future,"said Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby.

Phipps could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Her lawyer,Roger Smith, said Pipps would turn herself in at the Wake Countymagistrate's office Wednesday shortly after midday.

"She will be arrested and processed, fingerprinted and hotographed just like any other citizen," Smith said.

The federal investigation has already led to guilty pleas by twoformer Phipps aides on charges including extortion. A third Phippsaide has been indicted in federal court.

The investigation has focused on a state contract awarded tocarnival operator Amusements of America and campaign donations toPhipps and others allegedly arranged by the company.

Phipps resigned June 6, the same day a federal grand juryindicted Mike Blanton, the third of her top aides to face chargesrelated to the campaign finance scandal.

The perjury charges against Phipps could lead to a prison termranging from 2 1/2 years to seven years. But with no prior recordand under the state's structure sentencing rules, the charges wouldprobably bring no active prison term.

The indictments allege that Phipps lied when she testifiedduring an elections hearing last June that she was unaware ofpayments her campaign made to pay off the debt of aide and formerelection rival Bobby McLamb.

The state grand jury also alleges that Phipps knowingly helpedaide Linda Saunders commit perjury before the elections board andsubmitted a false deposition to an administrative law judge relatedto a lawsuit brought by Strates Shows, which had held the StateFair contract for the previous 53 years.

The obstruction of justice charges relate to allegations thatPhipps altered campaign donation checks to conceal illegal paymentsto McLamb's campaign.

Federal prosecutors allege that Blanton, Phipps' top aide, liedto FBI agents and a grand jury about his knowledge of Phipps'campaign finances, and also coached a witness to lie. The federalindictments also suggested that Blanton was motivated to hide thetruth because he was having an affair with an unidentifiedAgriculture Department official.

McLamb and Saunders have both pleaded guilty to federal chargesincluding extortion. They are cooperating in the investigation andhave not yet been sentenced.

Messages left at the home of interim Agriculture CommissionerBritt Cobb were not immediately returned Tuesday.

Last week, Cobb voided the contract Phipps signed withAmusements of America. State attorneys recommended the action to"remove any doubt about the midway contract being procured byfavoritism," according to an advisory letter to Cobb.