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(Bigg, Meja, Guthrie and other Commerce Department officials declined to be interviewed for this story.)

Guerra's fate was sealed upon Meja's return to Mexico City. The 47-year-old tennis and computer buff was furious with Guerra for sending Bishop's check to Phoenix.

Late on the afternoon of December 10, Guerra wrote, "Meja informed me that I was fired, and either I signed a letter of 'VOLUNTARY RESIGNATION' or he would not give me a dismissal payment."

Guerra reluctantly resigned her position.
Meja immediately appointed his 23-year-old niece, Silvia Allen, to Guerra's job.

@body:Jorge Meja did not do well in the initial round of interviews conducted by Commerce Department officials searching for a director for Arizona's Mexico City trade office. State procurement records show Meja barely scraped into the upper third of the pack of 60 applicants for the position.

But sometime between that first impression and a second round of interviews, Meja's stock soared with Bigg, Guthrie and two other Arizona trade officials reviewing bids to run the Mexico City trade office. Suddenly, Meja, who initially was rated no better than average, was among the finalists for the position.

Once making that leap, it was clear sailing for Meja, whose scorecard racked up the most points in each succeeding interview round. It's unclear why Meja was so highly rated. His business and educational background is far from impressive when compared to those of other applicants for the position, several of whom had advanced degrees in international trade and extensive business experience.

Meja's educational history is particularly thin. He claimed to have graduated from a teaching university in Mexico, but couldn't produce a diploma. He told Commerce officials in an August 2 letter that he was unable to obtain a copy of the diploma from the Ministry of Education because the agency was "undergoing a substantial reorganization."

Commerce officials tried to confirm his graduation independently, but were unable to do so, state records show.

Meja did produce another diploma while documenting his accomplishments for state officials. The diploma was awarded for attending a one-week course at Maharishi International University in Fairfield, Iowa, and is graced by the likeness of His Holiness Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. During his stay in America's heartland, Meja studied such subjects as "Vedic Mathematics and Financial Management: Do Less and Accomplish More."

In an abbreviated rsum Meja circulated with state officials, Meja also claimed to have "postgraduated from Stanford University (Advanced Management College)" and "postgraduated in management from UCLA." Neither Stanford nor UCLA has any record of Meja attending the universities, and there is no such thing as the "Advanced Management College" at Stanford.

(Meja did attend a three-month management-development program at UCLA in 1981. He also spent a week at Stanford's Sierra Camp in 1984, taking 60 hours of management courses.)

Meja's employment background cannot be called overpowering, either. For the last four years, he has operated a consulting business out of the apartment he shares with his wife. Meja admitted in a videotaped interview with Bigg that he wasn't making much money from the firm.

The consulting business was started in July 1989, a month after Meja left his position as a divisional vice president for Maritz Travel Company, where he worked for eight years. He briefly held jobs with American Express Travel Co. and the Americana Coral Beach Hotel.

Despite his apparent lack of academic and business credentials, Meja caught the eye of Commerce officials by making what they considered a strong personal impression and developing a solid business plan for running the office, state procurement records indicate.

But he was offered the job before Commerce officials had even finished conducting their review of his past employment, Commerce Department records show.

@body:Exactly how Meja fits into the Symington-Bishop relationship is unclear. And the governor's connection to Bishop, the Lake Oswego, Oregon, businessman, is also a mystery at this point.

Symington and members of his staff refuse to discuss the governor's ties to Bishop and his energy firm. (Although there appear to be no direct business links between Bishop and Symington, the governor has had a long-standing interest in the energy sector. One of the first companies he formed was the Symington Oil & Gas Co., now known as Wicklow Management Co.)

Bishop has also declined to return New Times' phone calls. Meja cut short an interview in Mexico City before the Bishop visit could be discussed.

It is clear that Symington has helped Bishop meet with top Mexican officials more than once. Last July, the governor wrote a letter to Sonoran Governor Manlio Fabio Beltrones, urging him to meet with Bishop to discuss construction of a gas-fired electric generating plant.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty