Originally created 09/22/04

Fair operator sues over contract loss



RALEIGH, N.C. - Strates Shows, the carnival company that lost its State Fair contract to a company accused of funneling illegal campaign contributions to former Agriculture Commissioner Meg Scott Phipps, has sued her, the company and others tied to the scandal that put her in prison.

Strates, based in Orlando, Fla., ran the North Carolina State Fair midway for more than 50 years before Amusements of America took over in 2002.

The Strates lawsuit, filed Aug. 23 in U.S. District Court of Eastern North Carolina, cites fraud, conspiracy and unfair trade practices.

The 75-page lawsuit asks for unspecified damages and attorney's fees.

There are 30 defendants named in the lawsuit besides Ms. Phipps.

Also named are her former assistants Bobby McLamb, Linda Saunders, Mike Blanton and Weldon Denny; carnival operator Jimmy Drew and Amusements of America, of Augusta.

Strates contends in the lawsuit that the defendants "engaged in a common and covert scheme" to extort money and commit fraud, and worked to purposely interfere in the long-standing relationship between Strates and the state.

The Strates lawsuit chronicles much of the FBI investigation that found thousands of illegal campaign contributions funneled to Ms. Phipps followed by a series of lies to cover up the scheme.

In the filing, Strates' attorneys describe a meeting where an official with Amusements of America proclaimed they "owned the Ag commissioner."

Lawyers who have represented Ms. Phipps and Mr. Blanton in the past could not be immediately reached by the Associated Press for comment Tuesday night.