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Jury Weighs Charges on Mecham Campaign Funds

June 16, 1988|DAVID LAMB | Times Staff Writer

PHOENIX — A jury Wednesday began deliberating the guilt or innocence of former Gov. Evan Mecham and his brother, who are accused of trying to hide a $350,000 campaign loan in 1986.

The prosecution contends that the Mechams neglected to itemize the loan, from Tempe developer Barry Wolfson, as required by state law because it would have challenged Evan Mecham's campaign promise that he would be beholden to no one.

Neither Evan nor Willard Mecham testified during the seven-day trial, but their attorneys acknowledged the loan. They said it had been identified on state forms as part of a larger sum reported as a contribution from Evan Mecham to himself. The fact that it was not properly itemized as a loan from Wolfson, they said, amounts to nothing more serious than a bookkeeping error on the part of Willard Mecham, who was the campaign treasurer.

The jury of six men and two women must return a unanimous verdict. Evan Mecham, 64, could get 22 years in prison if convicted on the felony counts of perjury, willful concealment and filing a false report of campaign contributions and expenses. Willard Mecham, 67, could be sentenced to nine years.

Mecham, a conservative Republican who managed to offend blacks, Jews, Latinos and homosexuals during his 15 months as governor, was removed from office April 4 after impeachment in the state Senate on two unrelated counts. He had run for governor four times before his surprise victory in November, 1986.

During closing arguments Tuesday and Wednesday before Superior Court Judge Michael Ryan, Mecham seemed relaxed. He told reporters outside the courtroom that he and his brother are innocent. He chuckled to himself and shook his head in apparent disbelief several times as the prosecutors, Barnett Lotstein and Michael Cudahy, outlined their case.

"Evan Mecham is charged with serious crimes on the slimmest of evidence," said defense attorney Michael Scott, a former rodeo rider. "They are not entitled to bring home Evan Mecham's scalp and hang it as a trophy on the wall of the attorney general's office."

At the time of the loan, Wolfson was being investigated for alleged improprieties with tax-exempt industrial development bonds. Mecham said last fall that he believed the loan was made to his campaign, not to him personally, and Wolfson testified that he considered the loan a personal one.

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