Local News

Phipps Released Without Bond Following Indictment

Posted July 9, 2003 6:11 a.m. EDT

— Former state Agriculture Commissioner Meg Scott Phipps turned herself in to authorities Wednesday to face criminal charges.

Phipps arrived with her husband and lawyers at the Wake County magistrate's office around 12:30 p.m.

Phipps was indicted by a state grand jury Tuesday on charges that she doctored evidence and then lied under oath to the State Board of Elections about paying off an assistant's debts.

Phipps was photographed, fingerprinted and processed by the magistrate. The former commissioner was then freed without bond.

Phipps declined to comment, but her attorneys expressed the sadness and embarrassment she feels.

"Yes, she feels very badly that her hopes and dreams came to this," said Roger Smith, Phipps' attorney.

"Meg realizes that things got out of control," said Wade Smith, Phipps' attorney.

Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby is in charge of the case and will personally prosecute Phipps in state court.

Willoughby said the state grand jury would continue receiving information on the case while the joint state-federal investigation proceeds.

Smith said Tuesday that he hoped federal prosecutors would not seek an indictment against his client.

"We don't know what impact the state indictment will have, if any, on the ongoing federal investigation. We had hoped that she wouldn't be indicted in state court and we continue to hope that she won't be indicted in federal court," Smith said.

The five-count indictment says Phipps also encouraged and helped her close friend and campaign treasurer Linda Saunders to lie to the elections board, which was investigating the payments.

Saunders and Bobby McLamb have already pleaded guilty in federal court to extortion charges. They have not yet been sentenced. Former Deputy Commissioner Mike Blanton has been charged with perjury and other federal charges.

Phipps resigned June 6, the same day a federal grand jury indicted Blanton.

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

The indictments allege that Phipps lied when she testified during an elections hearing last June that she was unaware of payments her campaign made to pay off the debt of McLamb, a former election rival as well as an aide.

The obstruction of justice charges relate to allegations that Phipps altered campaign donation checks to conceal illegal payments to McLamb's campaign.

Last week, interim Agriculture Commissioner Britt Cobb voided the contract Phipps signed with Amusements of America. State attorneys recommended the action to "remove any doubt about the midway contract being procured by favoritism," according to an advisory letter to Cobb.