Former Arizona State Mine Inspector Doug Martin pleaded guilty Thursday in Maricopa County Superior Court to a felony conflict of interest charge.
Martin, 67, was accused of trading in a state-owned vehicle for a new pickup truck that was “loaded with options” that he used for work and personal matters.
In doing so, Martin violated state laws that prohibit publicly elected officials from using their authority to benefit personally, according to a news release from the Arizona Attorney General’s Office.
Under the plea agreement, Martin will be placed on probation and will not serve more than 30 days in jail. He is scheduled to be sentenced on April 17, according to the release.
The plea deal also wipes out eight other criminal counts, including theft and fraud.
Martin, who had claimed he did nothing wrong, said during a phone interview Thursday there were several factors that led him to plead guilty. On the advice of his attorney, he would not discuss any details.
“Let’s just say it was a good business decision,” he said.
Martin became the second elected official in Arizona to be convicted of a felony in the past year.
State Treasurer David Petersen pleaded guilty in October to filing a false financial statement. He was forced to step down from office, pay $4,500 in fines and serve three years’ probation.
The attorney general’s office started looking into Martin’s activities last year after an audit of his office showed he might have broken the law by leasing vehicles without authority and improperly spending money. Martin served as state mine inspector from 1988 until 2006.
Auditors found that money from a $5,000 fund was being used to pay for personal parking tickets and to make a political contribution to Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. They also found that the state had paid three times for the same $13.22 carwash on a vehicle used by Martin.
Despite the findings of the audit, Martin remained the state’s top mining official and served out the remainder of his final term, which ended early this year.
The issue also sparked debates over whether the mine inspector — one of six offices elected statewide — should continue to be an elected post.
When Arizona’s founders were crafting the state constitution, they felt the mine inspector should be elected by popular vote to counter the enormous influence of the state mining companies. That was back about 1912 when Arizona gained statehood.