Mecham appointee probed in ’54 slaying

This story about a Mecham appointee being under investigation for murder is a prime example of both sloppy journalism and a prosecutorial hatchet job. Within days after Alberto F. Rodriguez was appointed, but not yet confirmed, to be the State Liquor Superintendent, Attorney General Bob Corbin leaked to a reporter that the appointee was under investigation for murder.

This “murder” happened in 1954 when Rodriguez was one of eight or nine police officers in Douglas, Arizona involved in the ambush of an ex-convict and known burglar. The shooting happened on the U.S. side of the border, but the man managed to cross the border into Mexico, where he died.

The killing, 33 years earlier, was investigated by local and state authorities in Arizona, in addition to the FBI and the U.S. State Department. Rodriguez and all the other officers were exonerated. 

After two years with the Douglas Police Department, Rodriguez returned to active duty with the Army. He served in Vietnam and elsewhere, then returned in 1977 with the rank of colonel. It can be safely assumed that before Rodriguez had been elevated to such a high rank that his background had been thoroughly investigated. A secret security clearance (probably a top secret clearance) would not be given to an Army officer with an unresolved murder hanging over his head.

The article below closes by dredging up another unproven charge. I was told directly by Governor Mecham that Joe Haldiman was never considered, let alone offered, the position as the state’s risk manager. The reporter’s source for that part of the story was the man who previously held the job.

Rodriguez withdrew from consideration for the job. The former mayor of small town cannot fight the resources of an Attorney General.

– Ken Smith

Liquor agency head part of police ambush that killed Mexican

By Sam Stanton
The Arizona Republic

The man appointed Monday by Gcv. Evan Mecharn to head the state‘s liquor-control department is under investigation by the Arizona attorney general’s office in connection with a 33-year-old slaying in Douglas.

Attorney General Bob Corbin confirmed Tuesday the existence of the investigation into Alberto F. Rodriguez, who was appointed to replace state Liquor Superintendent Phil MacDonnell.

Corbin said his office began the investigation in April, but declined further comment.

Rodriguez, a 60-year-old decorated war veteran and former mayor of Douglas, said he knew nothing about the investigation and that he had done nothing wrong in the shooting incident.

He said that he had been exonerated in previous investigations and that “political enemies” could be behind the renewed investigation.

Some key legislators said they inew nothing about it and added that they had never faced a situation before in which a gubernatorial appointee was under investigation.

Mecharn’s press secretary, Ron Bellus, said neither he nor the Republican governor would comment on the matter.

The investigation centers on the death of a Mexican citizen named Sacramento Peralta, who died in an ambush by Douglas police officers in late 1954.

Rodriguez, who said he had been on the force for perhaps two months at the time, said he was one of eight or nine officers involved in the ambush in which Peralta was killed while fleeing across the border to Mexico.

“I did nothing wrong but participate in an ambush site,” Rodriguez said.

He said the ambush was set for Peralta after police received information about where Perslta would be. He described Peralta as an ex-convict and burglar who had fought with the Douglas police chief.

Police officers set up an ambush, :Rodriguez said, and when Peralta spotted officers, he began to flee.

“Weapons were fired, absolutely,” he said. “Many, many weapons were fired. One of the weapons fired was mine.”

Rodriguez said he did not know whether Peralta was armed, and that Peralta made his way across the border into Mexico.

He was known to carry a weapon,” he said. “It was an ambush situation.”

The fact that Peralta died on the Mexican side of the border sparked international tensions, Rodriguez said, and the U.S. State Department took an interest in the case. He said the FBI, the state and Cochise County investigated the shooting and that everyone involved in the case was exonerated.

Former co-workers and acquaintances of Rodriguez said the story of the shooting has been known in Douglas for many years. Rodriguez said it may have surfaced again because he made many political enemies while he was mayor of Douglas from 1978 to 1980.

The FBI in Washington, D.C., said no information would be divulged without a written Freedom of Information Act request. An FBI spokesman in Phoenix said any information about such investigations would have to come from Washington.

Rodriguez said he left the police force as a lieutenant.

A five-page resume on Rodriguez provided by Bellus does not list his years on the Douglas Police Department. Rodriguez said he thought that had been listed and did not know why it was not on the resume.

It does list a police organization under “Professional Organizations” and two law enforcement courses he took.

Rodriguez left the police force in 1961 when he returned to active duty with the Army. He went on to serve in Vietnam, he said, and was decorated. He retired in 1977 as a colonel.

The next year, he was elected mayor. Rodriguez said his attempts to fight corruption in city government earned him many political enemies.

“I hurt a lot of people in Douglas,” he said. “I really believe, political-wise, I hurt a lot of them. And when you go in there and try to clean some of the corruption in the state, you make a lot of enemies. That’s another story.”

Rodriguez added that he could not have received top level security clearances from the military if he had a questionable background.

His military records were not available Tuesday, according to an Army spokeswoman in St. Louis. She confirmed that in October 1977 as a colonel, but could provide no other information.

Senate President Carl Kunasek of Mesa and Senate Majority Leader Bob Usdane of Scottsdale, both Republicans, said that Rodriguez would be given the same scrutiny as other appointees who are up for Senate confirmation.

“If there are no charges that have ever been filed, we can’t do much more than ask him questions,” Usdane said. “I think we live in a world where people are innocent until proven guilty.”

Senate Majority Leader Alan Stephens, a Phoenix Democrat, said he had not heard of the investigation but that “it raises some questions.” He added that questions about other appointees had also been raised.

“This is just going to add fuel to the fire,” he said.

One of the most criticized appointments to date has been that of Max Hawkins as acting director of the Administration Department.

Hawkins was hit with more criticism Tuesday over the possibility that he would hire Joe Haldiman III — whose state insurance license has been revoked for misappropriation of funds — as the state’s risk management director.

Jim Mullen, who resigned last week as risk manager, said Hawkins told him that Haldiman would replace him.

However, after several reporters left messages with Haldiman and Hawkins, Mullen said Hawkins told him that Haldiman would not be accepting the job.

Hawkins said later that he had not yet offered the job to Haldiman.

Haldiman, who could not be reached for comment, signed a consent agreement in July with the state insurance Department admitting misappropriation. He had been doing business as Tradition Insurance Agency but later sold the agency.

The risk-management director manages the state’s self-insurance program and ensures that adequate coverage is available for claims against the state.