Campaign contributions considered in making appointments

Ralph Milstead wanted to be like Tarzan

March 16, 1988

By LAURIE ASSEO
Associated Press

PHOENIX, Ariz. (AP) Gov. Evan Mecham’s former appointments secretary testified at his impeachment trial today that campaign contributions were a criterion, but not a major one, in making appointments to state boards and commissions.

Sam Udall also testified that he did not immediately realize that two proposed appointees to the Housing Finance Review Board were recommended by Barry Wolfson, who provided a $350,000 campaign loan to Mecham. One of the three impeachment counts accuses the governor of concealing the loan.

The state Senate also voted today to lengthen daily sessions in an effort to speed it up.

The trial began Feb. 29, and senators have complained that the trial is moving too slowly and there might not be time to reach a verdict before Mecham’s May 17 recall election.

They voted 21-6 to add two hours of testimony a day, subject to change if the new eight-hour schedule proves too heavy.

The first-term Republican governor was likely to testify this afternoon as the last defense witness on the first impeachment count, said his attorney, Fred Craft.

On Tuesday, a woman who claims to be the former lover of Arizona’s top police officer testified that he is a liar who had ambitions to be governor.

Christina Johnston testified Tuesday that her relationship with Department of Public Safety Director Ralph Milstead was “intimate and personal.”

Milstead has accused Mecham of obstructing justice by ordering him not to cooperate with an investigation of an alleged death threat against a former Mecham aide who was to testify before a grand jury about the $350,000 campaign loan.

Mrs. Johnston, asked Tuesday about her opinion of Milstead’s overall truthfulness, said, “He’s a liar. He’s corrupt, he’s an egomaniac and he’s power-hungry. I’m sorry, but that’s the truth.”

Mrs. Johnston said Milstead told her in 1982 he wanted to be governor because it was “an easy job.”

“It seems like everything that he does is for his own pleasure and he wants people to see that he’s Tarzan,” she said.

Milstead was in Israel attending an anti-terrorism conference, and DPS spokesman Sgt. Allan Schmidt declined to comment on Mrs. Johnston’s statements. When the DPS director testified before the Senate, he said he knew her as an informant but he was not asked about any alleged sexual relationship.

Prosecutor William French asked Mrs. Johnston only one question: “I get the impression you don’t like Colonel Milstead, is that correct?”

“At this time I’m very disgusted with him,” she replied.

In an affidavit to senators, Mrs. Johnston claimed to have had an affair with Milstead. The trial’s presiding judge, Frank X. Gordon Jr., disallowed testimony about the matter.

Gordon, the state Supreme Court’s chief justice, renewed that ruling Tuesday after a lengthy exchange in which prosecutor Paul Eckstein repeatedly objected to defense lawyer Fred Craft’s questioning of Mrs. Johnston.

“Maybe I just don’t understand the rules,” Craft protested.

“That may be a good statement,” Gordon replied.

At one point, Mrs. Johnston contended that Milstead believed “if you don’t have money or a title, you’re a loser.”

Republican Sen. Peter Kay commented, “What you’ve just described is someone who’s proud of his own achievements in life.”

Attorney A. Melvin McDonald, who represents Mecham aide Ray Russell, testified Tuesday that he believed Milstead had a good professional reputation.

McDonald said he was not surprised by the allegation that then-state official Lee Watkins had threatened the life of former Mecham aide Donna Carlson. At the time of the alleged Nov. 12 threat, Ms. Carlson was about to testify before a state grand jury regarding Mecham’s failure to report the campaign loan.

“To me it was just Lee Watkins shooting his mouth off again,” McDonald said. Watkins has denied making a threat.

Mecham has acknowledged that he may have told Milstead not to cooperate with the attorney general, but the governor has insisted he was not informed there was a serious threat that involved possible witness tampering.

Lt. Col. Gary Phelps, deputy director of the Department of Public Safety, testified today that the handling of the alleged threat was “very bizarre.”

“In my perception I had one grand jury witness, Lee Watkins, threaten a second grand jury witness, Donna Carlson; we reported it to a third grand jury witness, the governor, who then asked a fourth grand jury witness, Max Hawkins, to look at it,” Phelps said.

He also said he did not advise Mecham on how to handle the situation because the governor has his own advisers, including a new chief of staff who was a former U.S. attorney.

The House impeached Mecham, 63, on Feb. 5, and accused him of attempting to block the death threat probe, concealing the $350,000 campaign loan and misusing $80,000 from the governor’s protocol fund by loaning it to his auto dealership.

He faces an April 21 criminal trial on charges of hiding the $350,000 loan, and a May 17 recall election.

Mecham is the first U.S. governor to be impeached in nearly six decades. A two-thirds vote of the 30-member Senate is required to convict him.