PHOENIX, OCT. 17 -- Republican Gov. Evan Mecham's embattled administration suffered another blow with the indictment of a top aide on a felony extortion charge.
Sam Steiger, Mecham's $77,500-a-year special assistant and a former congressman, went on paid leave hours after he was indicted Friday, accused of retaliating against a state Parole Board member who would not follow Steiger's instructions to vote against a resolution seeking resignation of the board's executive director.
Steiger was indicted after a tape was played in Maricopa County Superior Court, in which Steiger told Parole Board member Ronald Dean Johnson, "You don't take direction, in which case you are not fit to be a board member.
"Your vote yesterday was against the wishes of the people who hired you and that ain't the way it is played," Steiger said in the tape of a telephone conversation, which Johnson testified occurred Oct. 2.
Steiger did not return phone calls after the indictment but has insisted that he did not try to influence Johnson's vote. Steiger's attorney, Tom Karas, declined comment.
The governor, in a statement issued by his office, said, "We recognize the seriousness of the charge but will make no judgment of any kind that would prejudice in any way the court proceedings that it appears will ensue. Until this has been completely cleared, Mr. Steiger will be relieved of all of his duties relating to the governor's office."
Steiger did not appear at the hearing before Superior Court Judge Thomas O'Toole, who issued the indictment without a grand jury.
The judge declined to indict Steiger on a second count of soliciting acceptance of a bribe. O'Toole ordered Steiger to appear by Oct. 23.
The indictment came as a petition campaign for an election to recall Mecham is in its final three weeks. One of the issues raised by opponents has been the integrity of the governor's appointees.
Johnson testified that Steiger carried out a threat of retaliation for his voting against Parole Board Executive Director Patricia Costello, who had no parole or corrections experience and who later resigned.
Steiger said Wednesday that he revoked permission for Johnson to serve as a part-time justice of the peace a day after the vote, but said the timing was a coincidence.
Steiger said it was related to a May incident in which Johnson and two other Parole Board members were disciplined for having alcohol in a van they were taking into a state prison.
Some legislators called for Steiger's resignation, while Senate Majority Leader Bob Usdane, a Republican, called the indictment "one more link in that chain of things that are binding government."