Mecham indicted on charges of perjury, filing false contribution report

January 8, 1988

Associated Press

PHOENIX, Ariz. (AP) — Gov. Evan Mecham was indicted Friday on six felony counts, including perjury and filing a false contribution report, Attorney General Bob Corbin announced.

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

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

Mecham did not report the 1986 loan until November, after it was disclosed by the news media. At the time, he called his failure to disclose the sum an “honest mistake” and blamed his brother. He has denied breaking the law.

Mecham, 63, left the Capitol by car an hour after the indictment was announced and did not speak to reporters. His brother was not available, according to a relative who answered the phone at Willard Mecham’s home.

Mecham press secretary Ken Smith said that after the indictments were announced, the governor expressed a “sense of relief because at least this formalizes some of this. … There’s no longer jousting at windmills.”

“It was no surprise. He did not seem surprised,” Smith said.

Mecham, the first sitting governor in Arizona history to be indicted, will be arraigned Jan. 22.

Two state grand juries and a special counsel to the state House have been investigating the loan from Tempe developer Barry Wolfson.

The governor and his brother were charged with 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.

One lawmaker, Republican Rep. Jim Hartdegen, called on the governor to resign. Another, Rep. Bobby Raymond, a Democrat, said it would be the “statesman like thing to do” for Mecham to consider resigning.

If Mecham resigned or were removed from office, he would be replaced by Secretary of State Rose Mofford, a Democrat.

The Arizona House already had been considering whether to impeach the governor over the loan, but House Speaker Joe Lane, a Republican, said the indictment will have “no direct impact” on the House investigation.

“Our investigation has always been and will remain on a separate track,” Lane added. The House plans next Friday to hear a report by special counsel Willaim French on his probe of the governor’s finances.

The governor, a former auto dealer elected in 1986, already faces a recall campaign. He had come under fire for such actions as rescinding a Martin Luther King Jr. state holiday and defending use of the word “pickaninny” for blacks.

“It’s a sad day for the state of Arizona to have a governor indicted,” said House Minority Whip Debbie McCune, a Democrat.

“When we convene on Monday, we’ll have to get about the business of dealing with issues important to the state. But this indictment will cast a shadow over our proceedings.”

The Mecham brothers had spent 3 1/2 hours in the grand jury area of the Maricopa County courthouse Thursday, and the governor spent all of Wednesday there. Willard Mecham was there Wednesday afternoon.

Neither would comment Thursday after leaving the grand jury area.

Wolfson said Friday, “I think certainly the governor is guilty — guilty of bad judgement and having incompetent people around him. But being guilty of perjury, wilfull concealment and filing false reports, I would say it’s highly unlikely.”

Wolfson said that he believed the governor had been “misadvised” by his former chief of staff, Jim Colter, regarding the loan, and that he he knew of no evidence of intent to evade the law.

When Mecham amended his personal and campaign financial disclosure forms in November, he said the omission was an “honest mistake” and blamed his brother for it.

A grand jury had been looking into the loan as well as an alleged death threat by a state official against a former top Mecham aide. That panel expired in early December without handing up any indictments. The new grand jury convened in late December.

A Mecham recall committee last year submitted for verification more than 387,000 signatures in favor of a recall election.

A total of 216,746 valid signatures are required to force a recall election, and authorities have said Mecham is virtually certain to face recall when the verfication is complete, probably in mid-month.

Ms. Mofford had been expected to present Mecham later this month with the formal option of resigning or facing a recall election, probably in mid-May.