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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Tuesday - September 23, 2003

GREENVILLE - United States Attorney Frank D. Whitney announced that MICHAEL EUGENE BLANTON, 44, of Fuquay-Varina, N. C., pled guilty in federal court in Greenville on Tuesday, September 23, 2003, pursuant to a plea agreement. U. S. District Judge Malcolm J. Howard accepted BLANTON's plea of guilty to one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice and to commit witness tampering.

BLANTON could face a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment, a fine of $250,000.00, and a supervised release term of three years. The actual sentence will be imposed by the Court in accordance with the United States Sentencing Guidelines. Under the terms of the plea agreement, BLANTON is required to cooperate by submitting to interviews and by testifying truthfully if called by the government as a witness. A sentencing date has been tentatively set for January 5, 2004, in Greenville.

BLANTON was indicted by a federal grand jury in Raleigh on June 6, 2003, on various charges related to the investigation of the Meg Scott Phipps Campaign 2000 for Commissioner of Agriculture. According to the indictment, BLANTON participated in a cover-up by helping alter documents produced to the North Carolina Board of Elections; by helping persuade Linda Saunders to lie to the North Carolina Board of Elections and to investigators; by lying to investigators himself; and by lying to the Grand Jury investigating the matter.

U. S. Attorney Whitney stated that the prosecution team is now focused on preparing for Phipps' federal trial, and that the investigation is continuing.

Investigation of the case was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, and the IRS-Criminal Investigation, in conjunction with the United States Attorney's Office and the Office of Wake County District Attorney C. Colon Willoughby, Jr. The Public Integrity Section of the Criminal Division of the U. S. Department of Justice also played a role in the investigation. Assistant U. S. Attorney Dennis M. Duffy and Executive Assistant U. S. Attorney John Stuart Bruce are handling the case for the government.

News releases are available on the U. S. Attorney's web page at www.usdoj.gov/usao/nce within 48 hours of release.

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