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Ex-Federal Prosecutor: Black Inquiry Smells Like Phipps Case

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RALEIGH, N.C. — On Thursday, N.C. House Speaker Jim Black released copies of two federal grand jury subpoenas seeking information about contact he and his staff may have had with more than two dozen people or groups, many connected to the video poker industry and the newly created state lottery.

Dan Boyce, a former federal prosecutor, said Friday that the inquiry into Black "looks and smells just like the Phipps case."

Boyce said the investigation that sent former Agriculture Commissioner Meg Scott Phipps to prison in 2004 boiled down to a vendor using cash to buy influence.

Phipps resigned as agriculture commissioner in 2003 and admitted to accepting tens of thousands of dollars in illegal contributions from Amusements of America, a carnival operator that wanted to run the N.C. State Fair. Phipps was sentenced to four years in prison.

All politicians take contributions, Boyce said.

"But if you condition it on 'I'll give you money if you'll take this step in legislation,' that's crossing the line," he said.

Federal investigators want information about how Black is connected to lottery interests, the video poker industry, and to the owners of Thee Doll House, a Raleigh strip club.

Subpoenas also demand records related to Black's former political director Meredith Norris and companies for which she worked, including ElectriCities, J.R. Tobacco and the North Carolina Economic Development Group.

Norris also worked as a consultant for lottery company Scientific Games Corp. during this year's legislative session, when there was extensive debate that led to the creation of a state lottery. The Secretary of State's Office is currently investigating whether Norris violated state lobbying laws while working with Scientific Games, a potential lottery vendor. Scientific Games and rival GTECH Holdings are among the 28 listed.

Also named in one of the subpoenas was Norma Mills, the chief of staff for Senate President Pro Term Marc Basnight.

Mills said Friday that she had no clue why she was named in a subpoena, but she was not concerned. She said she constantly corresponded with the House Speaker's office about legislation, and she said she felt there was nothing that would raise suspicion with investigators.

Black said the investigation into his connections to various entities was a politically motivated attack.

He also said he had nothing to hide and is cooperating with investigators.


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