Local News

Judge Expected To Rule On Midway Operator's State Fair Contract

Posted July 24, 2003 6:11 a.m. EDT

— Amusements of America was in court Wednesday attempting to stop the state Agriculture Department from accepting bids for the State Fair midway contract.

Amusements of America ran the N.C. State Fair midway for the first time last year.

State Agriculture Department leaders started a new selection process this month and planned to unseal bids in two days. The outcome of this hearing could complicate preparation for October's fair.

When Amusements of America took over the state fair midway last fall, many fairgoers liked the change. But, a series of indictments against former Agriculture Commissioner Meg Scott Phipps and three of her top aides raised suspicions over the contract.

Interim Agriculture Commissioner Britt Cobb voided the deal and said the contract would be open to new bids.

No one from Amusements of America has been indicted. But investigators accuse the company of participating in a loan scheme to gain favoritism with the Agriculture Department.

Amusements of America's attorney argues the contract was won fairly and tossing it out will ultimately cost fairgoers.

"The proof was in the pudding," Joe Cheshire said. "When they put on the 2002 state fair, everybody said it was a fabulous fair. That's why they got the fair again. It had nothing to do with illegal contributions."

Judge Narly Cashwell said he will make a ruling by 9:30 Thursday morning.

Amusements of America argues it will lose millions of dollars if it does not get the contract back.

Two former Phipps' aides pleaded guilty and a third has been indicted by a federal grand jury for their roles in soliciting campaign contributions from companies that wanted to bid on the State Fair midway contract.

Phipps was charged earlier this month in Wake County with perjury and obstruction of justice.

James A. Strates Shows, a company from Florida, held the N.C. State Fair contract for decades before losing it to Amusements of America two years ago.