Jim Meredith, the former Republican majority leader of Arizona's House of Representatives, is obviously a man without shame. If I were given the chance to pick the single AzScam defendant slick and duplicitous enough to merit stuffing into a hole in the Arizona state prison at Florence, Meredith would be my choice. Here was a man of privilege, a legislator earning $100,000 a year on the side in the real-estate business, who leaped at the chance to grab a dishonest $9,000 when offered to him by Joseph Stedino, the police undercover agent. "I was dancing with the devil," Meredith alibied. Some alibi.

Meredith took the money and funneled it into the campaigns of other House members. Pathetically, he wanted to buy their votes to keep him on as majority leader. He also poured part of it into Fife Symington's campaign for governor, seeking to curry favor there as well.

Meredith's use of the crooked money may have even helped to change the course of several elections.

When brought before Judge Michael Ryan for sentencing, Meredith groveled. portraying himself as a good citizen gone wrong--but not too wrong. He begged not to be sent to jail. He pleaded he be sentenced in a way that would allow his offense to be considered a mere misdemeanor. Sue Laybe was sent to jail. Chuy Higuera was sent to jail. Meredith, immensely more culpable than either of them because of his education and financial background, was placed on probation. County Attorney Rick Romley, not without skeletons in his own closet, didn't even ask for jail time against the most well-born of the defendants in the case.

I don't profess to understand why Meredith isn't serving time in jail like the others. I'm not surprised. Life isn't fair. But it's fairer if you are a man like Meredith who knows how to play the angles. What I do know, however, is that if I were Meredith I would keep my mouth shut and my profile lower than a reptile's belly. Not so with Meredith. He apparently thinks he emerged from this thing with his reputation unscathed. Last week, Meredith took umbrage at a reference made to him by the Arizona Republic's political columnist, Keven Ann Willey. Willey also wondered in print why Meredith was free to go on a summer holiday, and Higuera, who took half the money, went to the slammer.

Meredith wrote a letter to the Republic protesting his treatment at the hands of Willey. "Ms. Willey does not know or understand the difference between pleading guilty to a bribery charge or pleading guilty to making false campaign contributions," he wrote. "Bribery is a felony. Making false campaign contributions (which is what I pleaded guilty to) is an open-ended offense.

"This charge could be reduced to a misdemeanor after the completion of the terms of probation."

Just days removed from the jaws of jail, Meredith is already beginning to rewrite history. His performance in the AzScam matter was nothing less than a total betrayal of his oath of office. It was a despicable, treacherous series of acts by someone who thought he had devised a scheme clever enough to outsmart the system.

He would take illegal money and bury it in such a way that he would gain the utmost political benefit without having to take money from his own pocket.

Meredith almost got away with it. After all, he did avoid the prison sentence he so richly deserved.

Now that Meredith is back on the street and a free man, he thinks he can write a letter to the editor and throw a smoke screen over his actions by attempting to smear Willey. I was reminded of something Meredith did on a previous occasion while I attended the America West Airlines annual meeting the other day. When the airline made its inaugural trip to Hawaii, it took along several Republican big shots from the Arizona State Legislature for free. The legislators were violating the law by accepting the free ride but, of course, they scooped it up anyway. Making the trip in addition to Meredith were Senate President Bob Usdane, Senate Majority Whip Jeff Hill, and House Majority Whip Chris Herstam--all Republicans.

No charges were filed because Bob Corbin was still attorney general and he never found a Republican guilty of anything. Corbin allowed them to pay back the $300 airline fare. No one ever mentioned the hotel and food bills they ran up and never repaid. All of the legislators except Meredith kept their mouths shut and paid up. They knew they were caught and were smart enough to admit it. Not Meredith, however. He was ready with a typically slick response. "I saw it as a situation," Meredith said, "where I was a dignitary representing the state."

Some dignitary.
Well, Meredith obviously still regards himself as a "dignitary."
Perhaps his problem is more than the fact that he is a terminally dishonest man. He is only marginally literate. Meredith thinks "dignitary" means being above the law. "I was dancing with the devil," Meredith alibied. Some alibi.

Meredith's performance in the AzScam matter was nothing less than a total betrayal of his oath of office.

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Tom Fitzpatrick