Mecham attorney compares prosecutors to Auschwitz guards

June 15, 1988

By LAURIE ASSEO
Associated Press

PHOENIX, Ariz. — The jury hearing former Gov. Evan Mecham’s criminal trial began deliberations today after hearing the prosecution describe him in closing arguments as a liar who blames others for his failure to report a $350,000 campaign loan.

Prosecutor Barnett Lotstein, who was likened to a guard at Auschwitz on Tuesday by defense attorney Michael Scott, said Scott’s comment came from “the desperation of the defense to create an aura in the courtroom, because the facts do not support their theory.”

“I’m not guilty of anything; neither is Willard,” Mecham said as he entered court.

Mecham and his brother, Willard, are accused of concealing the $350,000 loan on financial statements required by the state. The defense has contended the loan was properly reported as part of a $465,000 lump sum listed as a contribution from Mecham.

Lotstein told the jurors Tuesday that Mecham’s attorney gave a “laundry list of excuses” but no valid explanation why the former governor and his brother failed to report the loan on financial reports required by the state.

Lotstein bitterly criticized Scott for comparing him and co-prosecutor Michael Cudahy, both assistant attorneys general, to the guards at the Nazi death camp.

Earlier Tuesday, Scott contended that Attorney General Bob Corbin sought charges against the Mechams to boost his own political ambitions.

“Perhaps I shouldn’t be so hard on my colleagues (Lotstein and Cudahy) because, like the guards at Auschwitz, they’re just doing their job,” Scott told the court.

Lotstein termed the statement a “vicious personal attack” and added, “It’s not a new tactic. It’s used when you don’t have anything else to say.”

Willard Mecham’s lawyer, Joe Keilp, contended the prosecution had sought to prove its case “by innuendo, not evidence.”

“How dare they try to sell you this shoddy merchandise and tell you it’s the truth,” Keilp said. “The only scheme to defraud in this case … has been perpetrated by the prosecution in trying to get you to convict these men.”

Cudahy told the Maricopa County Superior Court jury that Mecham desperately needed the loan from developer Barry Wolfson to keep his 1986 gubernatorial campaign afloat. However, he said Mecham felt he could not make the loan public because it would destroy his campaign theme of being “beholden to no one.”

“Evan Mecham never had any intention of disclosing the Wolfson loan,” said Cudahy, who claimed the loan was hidden in a campaign financial report as part of a”fabricated” $465,000 lump sum listed as a contribution from Mecham. Further, the prosecutor pointed to a letter in which Mecham promised Wolfson the loan would “remain confidential,” as well as a receipt that was written a month later and listed a $350,000 personal contribution from Evan Mecham.

Scott contended that the charges were based on the “slimmest of all evidence.” He insisted there was no motive to conceal Wolfson as the source of the loan because the financial report on which the loan would have appeared was filed after the election.

Scott noted that Mecham could have been charged under another state law that makes false campaign finance reporting a misdemeanor, “but a misdemeanor is not good enough for Bob Corbin and his henchmen.”

Keilp said Willard Mecham “is not the most sophisticated bookkeeper in the world” and filled out the financial statements the best he knew how.

But Lotstein contended that Willard Mecham lied when he told the state grand jury he had never seen the letter in which Mecham promised Wolfson the loan would remain confidential.

Mecham was charged with six felony counts of perjury, willful concealment and filing false documents and faced from almost nine to 22 years in prison if convicted of all charges.

Willard Mecham, who was his brother’s campaign treasurer, faced three similar counts and up to 9 1/2 years in prison if convicted of all charges.

Mecham, a Republican, took office in January 1987 and was removed April 4 when the state Senate convicted him of two unrelated charges. He also was impeached in connection with the loan, but the Senate decided not to hear that charge for fear of prejudicing his criminal trial.