June 17, 1988
Former Gov. Evan Mecham and his brother, Willard, were found not guilty today of concealing a $350,000 campaign loan. It was a partial vindication for Mr. Mecham, who had been impeached and removed from office.
The jury deliberated six and a half hours after receiving the case Wednesday at the end of seven days of testimony.
Mr. Mecham was charged with six felony counts of perjury, willful concealment and filing false documents.
His supporters cheered as the clerk read the jury’s last ”not guilty” finding.
”We’re happy, we’re happy,” the 64-year-old former Governor told reporters outside the court. ”You’re always apprehensive but not really surprised.”
He said he would hold a news conference Friday morning.
As the final verdict was read, Mr. Mecham smiled broadly and hugged his lawyer, Michael Scott. He then embraced his wife, Florence, and shook hands with the jurors. ‘This Is a Court of Law’
Mr. Scott asked Judge Michael Ryan whether Mr. Mecham could make a statement, but the judge refused, saying ”This is a court of law, Mr. Scott.”
Mr. Mecham had acknowledged that he did not itemize the $350,000 loan from Barry Wolfson, a developer and a lawyer, on either his personal or campaign financial statements.
The defense had argued that the failure was an innocent mistake, partly due to Willard Mecham’s inexperience as a bookkeeper.
But the prosecution had insisted that the conservative Republican badly needed the loan to keep his campaign afloat, and that he had hid it to avoid spoiling his theme of being ”beholden to no one.”
Mr. Mecham could have been sentenced to 22 years in prison if he had been convicted on all counts. His 67-year-old brother faced a maximum of nine and a half years on three counts. Impeached and Ousted
Mr. Mecham was impeached by the Arizona House and removed from office April 4 when the State Senate convicted him of misusing money from a state protocol fund and trying to thwart an investigation of a death threat.
He had also faced an impeachment trial on the loan concealment charge, but the Senate decided not to consider the matter to avoid prejudicing the criminal trial.
A former auto dealer, Mr. Mecham ran unsuccessfully for Governor four times before he won a three-way race in November 1986.
Gov. Rose Mofford, the Democratic Secretary of State who succeeded Mr. Mecham as Governor after he was convicted in the Senate impeachment trial, said in a prepared statement that she hoped her predecessor ”and his entire family can resume their lives as private citizens.”
”The end of this trial signals a hastening of a healing process which has begun and that the citizens of this great state so richly deserve,” she said. ‘No Quarrel With the Decision’
Outside the courtroom, the prosecutor, Barnett Lotstein, said that he had ”had an obligation to present this case” and that he had ”no quarrel with the decision.”
”We believe we presented a responsible case that had to be presented,” he said. ”We obviously felt we had a good case. A lot of the people in this community feel that he has suffered enough, and perhaps that was a factor.”
Mr. Lotstein said he felt the key issue was whether either Evan or Willard Mecham ”had the intent to break the law when they filled out the disclosure forms” and that the jury obviously did not feel they had such intent.
When testimony ended Friday, Mr. Mecham told reporters that the prosecution had not proven its case, which he said was based on ”smoke and mirrors.”
But the former Governor refused to say why neither he nor his brother had taken the stand. Who Knew About the Loan
A former Mecham aide, Edith Richardson, testified for the defense that the loan had been ”common knowledge” in Mr. Mecham’s inner circle.
But two former Mecham insiders, Donna Carlson and Mac Matheson, testified that they did not learn about the loan until October 1987 when the news media mentioned it.
The prosecution said it was immaterial whether Mr. Mecham’s closest aides knew about the loan. The prosecutors said the main point was that the loan had not been listed on public disclosure forms required by the state.