Governor says he’s ‘completely clean’

January 9, 1988

Associated Press

PHOENIX, Ariz. (AP) — Gov. Evan Mecham, indicted on felony charges of fraud and perjury, said Saturday that he was “completely clean” and would not resign despite “political opportunists in the attorney general’s office.”

In his first formal response to Friday’s six-count allegation that he violated the law by concealing a $350,000 campaign loan, Mecham said he would welcome a public trial as “a breath of fresh air” and called the indictment “political persecution, not legal prosecution.”

He said “a swirl of manipulation, deceit and skulduggery” was being used in an effort to “overthrow a constitutionally elected official.”

“I am completely clean,” he told reporters in the Capitol lobby. He declined to answer questions and left immediately after reading his 15-minute statement.

Attorney General Bob Corbin, a Republican like Mecham, said his office had sought to handle the Mecham case the same way it would any other. Corbin denied that he planned to run against Mecham.

The governor’s claim that he was the victim of political persecution was “the same junk that I’m doing this because I’m going to run in a recall election. No way,” said Corbin.

The embattled Mecham, who took office a year ago, also faces an impeachment inquiry in the state House of Representatives and a recall campaign that is likely to force an election this year.

Mecham, 63, will not resign and will not accept a plea bargain, press secretary Ken Smith said before Mecham’s brief appearance.

“Obviously the governor and his attorney believe that they have a rock- solid case” and will win acquittal, Smith said. “I don’t pretend to be a lawyer … but my exposure to him for four months (since going to work for Mecham) tells me that he had no criminal intention in concealing the loan.”

State Republican Party Chairman Burton Kruglick said Saturday that party leaders will meet soon to assess whether the party should continue supporting the embattled governor.

“Obviously we’ve said there’s a problem here and we need to look at it,” said Kruglick, who was reached in San Diego. “I don’t believe in blind loyalty either. There is no question that this is damaging to the party.”

Friday’s indictment led to renewed calls for Mecham’s resignation from legislators in both parties.

The state grand jury indicted Mecham and his brother and campaign treasurer, Willard Mecham, on charges of perjury, fraud and false filing for omitting the loan from a campaign-finance disclosure report. Signing a false financial-disclosure statement constitutes perjury, officials said.

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

If convicted on any count, the governor would be automatically removed from office. He would face almost 23 years in prison if convicted on all counts.

Meanwhile, Phoenix fire officials said Saturday there was no word on possible suspects in an arson fire Friday night that damaged records in the law office of the state House’s special counsel, William French.

French has been investigating whether Mecham should be impeached and is scheduled to present his findings to House members Friday. French said his paperwork on the Mecham case was not affected.

House Speaker Joe Lane said Friday the indictment would have no bearing on the House investigation and decision on whether to impeach.

Mecham also faces possible recall from office resulting from a petition campaign by the Mecham Recall Committee. Although the count has not yet been declared official, county recorders have certified well over the 216,746 number of signatures required to force an election, probably in May.

The auto dealer won the governorship on his fifth try in a three-way race and took office on Jan. 5, 1987. He has been embroiled in controversy since his first month in office, when he canceled a Martin Luther King holiday for state employees.

Mecham further angered black leaders by defending the use of the word “pickaninny.” He also has said that working women cause divorce and that homosexuality is an unacceptable lifestyle, and in December he angered Jews by defending an earlier statement that the United States is a “great Christian nation.”

Mecham’s legal problems began in October when it was revealed that he had received but failed to report a $350,000 campaign loan from Tempe developer Barry Wolfson. The loan made up about one-third of Mecham’s campaign warchest but was lumped in with other contributions on his campaign financial statement. Wolfson’s name did not appear on the statement.

In a letter to Wolfson, Mecham had promised that the loan would “remain confidential.” When he revised his personal and campaign financial reporting statements in November, the governor said the failure to itemize the loan was an “honest mistake” and blamed it on his brother, Willard, who was indicted Friday on three similar counts.