Governor worries about eavesdropping as impeachment hearings continue

January 21, 1988

By LAURIE ASSEO
Associated Press

PHOENIX, Ariz. (AP) — As he faces criminal charges and possible recall or impeachment, Gov. Evan Mecham says he has yet another worry: Someone may be eavesdropping on him with laser beams.

The Republican governor told a group of lawyers earlier this week he suspects someone might be using the sophisticated electronic devices to spy on conversations at his Capitol office and his home, two attorneys said Thursday.

“That was just one of several things that were talked about,” at the breakfast table before Mecham spoke Tuesday to the Phoenix Forum Breakfast Club, attorney Sam Ciatu said.

Mecham had called a Phoenix radio station’s talk show Monday and was explaining to the lawyers why he had been listening to the program, said attorney Ernest Calderon.

Mecham told the lawyers he keeps the radio on all the time to keep laser beams out, Calderon said.

Laser beams are used in one form of electronic surveillance, according to experts in the field. These lasers can “read” vibrations in window glass caused by voices. Other noise in a room, such as a radio, would make it harder to interpret conversations.

Ken Smith, Mecham’s press secretary, said there is continuing concern that the governor’s office is the target of some sort of electronic surveillance, but that no evidence has been uncovered.

Mecham said in Tucson on Thursday that the alleged eavesdropping occurred “many months ago” and that no attempt was made to find out who was listening in. “We just set up some precautions so it wouldn’t happen again,” he said.

He acknowledged talking about the alleged eavesdropping during the breakfast meeting Tuesday.

“I said, ‘Well, you have to be a little careful nowadays. I’ve found that I not only have to be careful what I say when I speak but I have to (be) careful in the office because we had intercepted a laser beam and also some other listening devices, but we took care of that,”‘ Mecham said.

Lawmakers who read reports about Mecham’s statements reacted either with disbelief or mirth.

“Frankly, I’m speechless,” said Sen. John McCain, a Republican who last Saturday called for Mecham’s resignation.

“There’s two things in life that worry me – laser beams aimed at my windows and eating too many Twinkies,” said state Rep. Jim Hartdegen, a Republican. “I think that’s paranoia, almost at its highest… I think the next thing is sandbags around the Capitol.”

Mecham is scheduled to be arraigned Friday on six felony counts of fraud, perjury and filing false documents in connection with his failure to report a $350,000 campaign loan. His brother and campaign treasurer, Willard, is to be arraigned on three similar counts.

Meanwhile, an Arizona House select committee plans to continue hearings Friday on whether Mecham should be impeached for allegedly concealing the loan and for borrowing $80,000 of what special counsel William French contends is state money from the state protocol fund.

Mecham also is accused of ordering the state police chief not to cooperate with a state investigation of an alleged death threat.

In addition, Mecham is expected to be told Tuesday by Secretary of State Rose Mofford that he must either resign within five days or face a recall election in May.

The House select committee held its first hearing Wednesday night. Department of Public Safety Director Ralph Milstead testified that the governor ordered him not to cooperate with Attorney General Bob Corbin’s investigation of an alleged death threat against former Mecham aide Donna Carlson.

Mecham administration official Lee Watkins has denied making a threat against Ms. Carlson, who was a witness before the grand jury investigating the $350,000 loan.

Mecham has refused to say whether he ordered Milstead not to cooperate with prosecutors. The governor has said he was told by a top appointee that there was no serious death threat, and that Mecham saw no need to pursue it further.

Milstead testified that when Mecham told him not to cooperate, he felt intimidated because the governor is his boss. But Milstead said he decided to cooperate with Corbin anyway because he would have been guilty of a crime if he had not.

Some lawmakers said after the hearing that they believed Milstead’s testimony but were uncertain whether Mecham’s conduct was illegal.

Committee Chairman Jim Skelly, a Republican, said he expected Mecham to be called to testify next week.

The votes of 31 of the 60 House members are required to impeach the governor, and two-thirds of the 30 Senators would have to vote to convict him in an impeachment trial. Under the Arizona Constitution, Mecham would have to turn the governorship over to the secretary of state during such a trial.