Mecham: ‘Resignation Is Not an Option’

 Arizona Governor Calls Indictment ‘Heinous Travesty of Justice’

January 10, 1988

By RON HARRIS
Los Angeles Times

PHOENIX — Embattled Gov. Evan Mecham, facing fraud and perjury charges, possible impeachment and almost certain recall, on Saturday spurned calls to resign and called the charges against him a “heinous travesty of justice committed by political opportunism in the attorney general’s office.”

“Resignation is not an option,” Mecham said in a press conference less than 24 hours after his indictment. “I am completely clean.”

Mecham, 63, was indicted Friday on six counts of fraud and perjury for allegedly concealing a $350,000-campaign loan made by a Tempe developer and attorney.

The governor’s brother, Willard, who served as Mecham’s campaign treasurer, also was indicted in the alleged scheme.

Mecham received a loan from Tempe attorney Bob Wolfson but did not report the 1986 contribution until November, 1987, a month after it was disclosed by the news media. At the time he called his failure to disclose the money an “unmistake” and blamed his brother.

Not Itemized

The loan was not itemized on the campaign report filed by Willard Mecham as required by law. Instead, it was lumped in with a list of small contributions to the campaign. That report, filed in February of 1987, was signed by the governor.

Wolfson had asked Mecham in a letter to keep the loan confidential. But Wolfson said that after the loan became public he never requested that the contribution be withheld from financial reports.

Evan and Willard Mecham are charged with perjury, fraud and false filing: omitting the loan from the campaign finance disclosure report. Both men are also charged with perjury, fraud and false filing in connection with the governor’s December, 1986, filing of a campaign expenses report as required by law.

Mecham also is charged with fraud and two counts of perjury for omitting the loan from personal finance statements.

State Atty. Gen. Bob Corbin, a Republican, said conviction would result in removal from office. The charges against the governor carry a maximum of nearly 23 years in prison.

The indictments came after a second grand jury reviewed the case. A previous grand jury reviewed the charges but did not return an indictment.

Mecham spent all of last Wednesday and 3 1/2 hours last Thursday being questioned by the grand jury.

Two hours after the Mechams’ indictment was announced, a small fire was set in a file room at the office of Phoenix attorney William French, hired by the Arizona House of Representatives in November to conduct an investigation into whether impeachment proceedings should be started against Mecham. French said none of his Mecham files were in the room. Fire investigators said they had no leads to the arsonist and did not know if the fire was related to the indictment.

The state House, following a 2 1/2-month investigation of the charges, is expected to hear a recommendation Friday from special counsel French as to whether the governor’s actions might warrant impeachment.

Mecham, while calling the indictment a “mockery and miscarriage of justice,” said he greeted the charges “with a sense of relief.”

“I now welcome the opportunity, and indeed the breath of fresh air, to present my case to the jury if that becomes necessary,” he said. “Neither my brother nor I have violated the law.”

Mecham accused Corbin, whom he called a “loose legal cannon,” of grand-jury shopping and bringing the charges because Corbin plans to run for governor in a recall election.

‘What I Expected’

Corbin held a press conference shortly after the governor’s on Saturday to address those charges.

“It’s what I expected … all he does is attack us,” Corbin said. He added that none of his efforts have been politically motivated.

“We have tried from the very inception to handle this the same way as we would any other matter,” he said.

Mecham, who was elected in 1986 when he received 40% of the vote in a three-candidate race, faces almost certain recall later this month. A Mecham recall committee late last year submitted for verification 387,000 signatures in favor of a recall.

A total of 217,746 valid signatures are required to force a recall election. Verification is scheduled to be completed Jan. 18. At that time Mecham will have five days to resign or face a recall election, probably in mid-May.

Mecham said earlier of the recall: “I would welcome a recall election next week, next month … I think (that) would shut them up … I’ll tell you what, if a band of homosexuals and a few dissident Democrats can get me out of office, why heavens, the state deserves what else they can get.”

Mecham’s tenure has been controversial, beginning as early as two weeks after he assumed office a year ago, when he rescinded a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. state holiday, arguing that it had been proclaimed illegally by the previous governor, Bruce Babbitt.

Through his statements he has alienated almost every interest group in the state. He has defended the use of the word “pickaninny” for blacks in a book he submitted for a bicentennial observance. He drew fire for saying that working women caused divorce and that homosexuals should not hold jobs in state government.

He infuriated Latinos when he said a Latino television announcer joined his staff because “he was so dazzled by her beauty” that he hired her on the spot. He told a National Guard association that the United States was becoming too much of a democracy, and he offended a Jewish group when he told them that America was a “Christian nation” built on “Christian principles.”

Mecham also has been criticized for his appointments to state government. He attempted to hire a private investigator to investigate corruption and waste; the man later withdrew after admitting criminal convictions.