Prison director recommended firing of Mecham aide

March 4, 1988

By LAURIE ASSEO
Associated Press

PHOENIX, Ariz. — A top aide to Gov. Evan Mecham told the state prison director that he had enough information to “bring the entire Mecham administration down,” the prison director testified today during Mecham’s impeachment trial.

Corrections Director Sam Lewis also testified that he recommended that Mecham fire Lee Watkins a month before Watkins allegedly made a death threat against a former top Mecham aide.

Lewis said he told Mecham that Watkins “was doing the governor serious harm in the Legislature and that it was my belief that the governor should fire him.”

Lewis also said that Watkins tried early last year to convince him to relocate a state prison inmate who was the son of a major Mecham campaign contributor.

Mecham is accused of trying to thwart a grand jury investigation of the alleged threat in November by Watkins against the former Mecham aide. Watkins has denied threatening the aide, and he has not been charged in the matter.

Lewis testified on the fifth day of the trial that Watkins told him last year he had enough information “that he could bring the entire Mecham administration down.”

Watkins claimed in June 1987 that he would receive a new job in the Mecham administration because he was a major campaign fund-raiser and that “the more money that you raised for the campaign the higher-level job you received in state government,” Lewis testified.

“I was astounded by Mr. Watkins’ statements to me,” Lewis said.

Also today, the Senate ordered Mecham’s attorneys to produce subpoenaed documents on the financial condition of Mecham’s auto dealership. The documents were sought in connection with a charge that Mecham Pontiac received an improper loan of $80,000 last year from the governor’s protocol fund.

On Thursday, the Senate refused to hear allegations about the sex life of a key impeachment trial witness regarding the death threat matter.

“This is neither a circus nor another episode of Peyton Place,” Democratic Sen. Jesus “Chuy” Higuera said before the Senate voted 21-8 Thursday to bar testimony on an alleged affair between Department of Safety Director Ralph Milstead and a former DPS employee.

However, the Senate decided 26-3 to ask the Maricopa County attorney’s office to look into Milstead’s conduct.

Milstead is expected to be the key witness on a charge that Mecham sought to thwart an investigation of an alleged death threat. The first-term Republican is accused of ordering Milstead not to cooperate with the attorney general’s office.

Mecham’s lawyers produced an affidavit by a former DPS employee and her husband claiming that Milstead had sex with her in 1982 while he was married and once threatened her life if she revealed their affair. The affidavit also claimed that Milstead misused state vehicles and padded his expenses.

The claims regarding the affair are irrelevant and unfair, Republican Sen. Greg Lunn said in arguing against admission of the affidavit.

Republican Sen. Tony West said a spectator told him it was “important we demonstrate we are not handing out frontier justice or cactus justice. We have to proceed with dignity.”

Republican Sen. Peter Kay contended the sex claim should be admitted.

“It all goes to character,” Kay said. “The entire character of the director (Milstead) is in question as the entire character of the governor of Arizona is in question.”

Milstead issued a statement saying he had been defamed by the allegation and that he welcomed an investigation.

Mecham, who was impeached Feb. 5, also is accused of concealing a $350,000 campaign loan and misusing $80,000 from the governor’s protocol fund by loaning it to his auto dealership.

He faces a March 22 criminal trial on charges of concealing the campaign loan and a May 17 recall election.

A two-thirds vote of the 30-member Senate is required to convict him and remove him from office. Senators also could vote to bar Mecham from holding any future public office.

Mecham, a political outsider who won the governorship on his fifth try, is the first U.S. governor impeached in six decades and the first ever in Arizona.