Local News

Amusements Of America Will Not Get State Fair Contract

Posted July 25, 2003 5:48 a.m. EDT

— After a Wake County judge refused to issue a ruling that would allow Amusements of America to keep its contract to run the state fair midway, the company was denied the chance to submit a bid for the next fair.

Wake County Superior Court Judge Narley Cashwell said the company would suffer no irreparable damage without the injunction. He also said he saw little difference between the actions of Amusements of America and those of other fair vendors.

Cashwell added that Amusements of America was likely to succeed on the merits of a lawsuit it has filed -- meaning the company can still pursue monetary damages.

"It strikes me that no one could be given this contract under the theory that AA (Amusements of America) has done something illegal," Cashwell said.

Amusements of America was not on the list of companies invited to submit bids released later Thursday by Interim Agriculture Commissioner Britt Cobb.

Cobb announced that the following companies have been invited to submit sealed bids to Dorton Arena on July 30 between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. Cobb said the bids will be opened in public that day and a contract will be awarded to the highest bidder July 31:

  • Combined submittal from

    Conklin Shows

    of West Palm Beach, Fla./

    Powers Great American Midways

    of Burgaw. N.C./

    Astro Amusements

    (Thebault) of South Barrington, Ill./

    All Star Amusements

    (Blomsness) of South Barrington, Ill.

  • Combined submittal from

    Wade Shows

    of Auburn Hills, Mich./Murphy Brothers Exposition of Tulsa, Okla.

  • James E. Strates Shows

    of Orlando, Fla.

  • Farrow Shows Inc.

    of Jackson, Miss.

  • Reithoffer Shows

    of Gibsonton, Fla.

  • Cobb said he was pleased with Cashwell's ruling and that he was moving ahead to select a midway operator.

    "Five proposals have been selected from the carnival companies, and they have been invited to submit bids," Cobb said. "These proposals were chosen because they meet our needs and criteria."

    The announcement was a major defeat for Amusements, which won the contract from Strates Shows last year.

    Phipps, who was indicted earlier this month on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, first awarded a contract to Amusements of America to run the 2002 N.C. State Fair.

    State and federal indictments allege that she accepted illegal campaign contributions from fair vendors, some of them arranged by Amusements of America.

    Two former Phipps' aides, Bobby McLamb and Linda Saunders, have also pleaded guilty on charges including extortion in connection with the awarding of the fair contract.

    Cobb, whose department oversees the two state-run fairs, canceled the contract earlier this month. Cobb said it was tainted by the company's close relationship to Phipps and illegal fund-raising.

    Alexander Peters, a special deputy attorney general, pointed out Thursday that Amusements of America is the only vendor that the State Board of Elections found to have violated campaign finance laws.

    The fair is scheduled to start Oct. 17. Cobb had said he intended to have a carnival operator selected by July 31. Operators had until Friday to submit their bids.

    During the hearing Wednesday, Raleigh lawyer Joe Cheshire said the contract was awarded based on the merits of the company's rides and shows, not any illegal campaign contributions.

    "The proof is in the pudding. And the pudding was that the citizens of North Carolina had never seen a better run, cleaner ... state fair," Cheshire said.

    Peters said Wednesday that federal indictments and statements by Saunders provide ample evidence that the illegal donations were meant to secure the contract.

    "Those were done with the goal of influencing the awarding of the midway contract to Amusements of America. That's what the indictment has said and that's what Linda Saunders pleaded guilty to," Peters said.

    Cheshire, though, said his client did not understand that a $75,000 loan funneled to McLamb and cash donations solicited from fair vendors in Ohio were illegal.

    He pointed out that the Vivona family, the owners of Amusements of America, also contributed legally to the Phipps campaign.

    "Nobody in the Phipps campaign and nobody else told them that was an inappropriate thing to do," Cheshire said of the cash contributions.

    Phipps, who signed the latest one-year contract in December, resigned in June because of the blossoming scandal.

    Besides Saunders and McLamb, former deputy agriculture commissioner Mike Blanton was indicted by a federal grand jury on perjury and obstruction of justice charges.

    Phipps, whose father and grandfather are former North Carolina governors, was indicted by a state grand jury, but both state and federal investigations continue.

    On Tuesday, a man whose family company runs the Mountain State Fair midway was indicted on charges of obstructing justice. The indictments allege that James H. "Jimmy" Drew III lied to investigators about illegal campaign contributions to Phipps.