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Former legislative staffer indicted on federal wire fraud charges; accused of stealing $131,000

Former legislative staffer John Mills indicted on wire fraud charges

Former legislative staffer John Mills testifies before the Joint Legislative Committee on Redistricting on Oct. 21, 2011 (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)

A federal grand jury has returned a third indictment this year involving the Arizona Legislature as a former staffer was charged Sept. 25 with 15 counts of wire fraud for allegedly stealing from former House Speaker Jim Weiers’ campaign account.

John Mills, former House director of special projects, who resigned in May because he was under investigation, allegedly stole about $131,000 from the campaign during two years and returned the money a few days before the 2008 general election.

Mills pleaded not guilty Oct. 3 during his arraignment in U.S. District Court. He was released on his own recognizance. His trial was scheduled for Nov. 6 before Judge Susan Bolton.

Mills declined comment after the short proceeding.

The Arizona Republic reported that the indictment was part of a wider corruption investigation that included Rep. Ben Arredondo, a Tempe Democrat who was indicted in June on allegations he accepted bribes while helping FBI agents who were posing as fictitious developers pushing a project. Bill Solomon, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney for Arizona, would not comment on a question about whether the cases are connected.

Arredondo pleaded not guilty, but a change of plea was set for Oct. 5.

Former Rep. Richard Miranda, a Phoenix Democrat, was sentenced to 27 months in federal prison in June for stealing from a charity he ran.

Mills also has been connected to other controversial matters over the years. He was involved in coordinating a group of sham Green Party candidates in 2010 to siphon votes from Democrats in competitive races. And he helped recruit a sham Green candidate get public funding to enter the Legislative District 10 race involving Weiers in 2008. He was also a major player in Fair Trust, the GOP’s redistricting group of lobbyists.

Weiers, a Glendale Republican, could not be immediately reached for comment. The Republic reported that Weiers said the FBI stumbled upon Mills while investigating him in the Arredondo matter. Lobbyist records show Weiers ate lunch with the fictitious developers in 2009, but he has said that was the last he heard from them.

Weiers also told the newspaper that he doesn’t see what Mills did as wrong because all of the money was returned. But Weiers said he didn’t know Mills was taking it.

The indictment alleges that Mills was a Weiers campaign worker with access to the campaign’s account. He wrote checks on the account and made electronic withdrawals and wire transfers to buy Google stock, contribute to his retirement account, invest in a failed biodiesel fuel company, make mortgage payments, buy groceries, pay for dry cleaning and buy sporting goods, according to the indictment.

He allegedly twice filed false financial reports stating the account contained $100,000 more than it actually had. He transferred $131,000 back into the account on Oct. 30 and 31, 2008. Wire fraud carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.

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