State Treasurer David Petersen pleaded guilty Wednesday to failing to report $4,200 he earned selling character education materials to schools — all part of a plea bargain that requires him to leave office by Dec. 1.
Attorney General Terry Goddard demanded that Petersen leave office early, even though an extensive investigation by his agency turned up no evidence that Petersen had misused his office.
The treasurer, who is a former state senator from Mesa, pleaded to a failure to formally disclose his links to several nonprofits and report money he collected from selling education materials for the Character Training Institute — a sale that Goddard said was perfectly legal.
Petersen, elected treasurer in 2002, has to step down a few weeks before he was supposed to leave anyway. But Goddard defended that part of the deal, calling the treasurer’s incomplete financial disclosure “a serious mistake” and said it involved the “hiding of information” that all elected officials are required to report.
Petersen, 56, declined to comment. But his attorney, Craig Henley, said Petersen didn’t object to Goddard’s demand.
He could be sentenced to up to six months in jail and ordered to pay $4,500 in fines. Goddard said he is not recommending any specific sentence to Maricopa County Superior Court Judge James Keppel.
However, Henley said he will ask the judge to let his client keep his licenses to sell real estate and insurance. Henley noted that Petersen had decided months ago not to run for re-election when his four-year term ends Dec. 31. He said Petersen is anxious to “move on from public life.’’
Gov. Janet Napolitano said Wednesday she has a “short list’’ of two or three contenders to replacement, who, by law, must be a Republican like Petersen. That person would serve only until Jan. 1 when the winner of the race between Republican Dean Martin and Democrat Rano Singh takes office.
The deal caps an investigation that began in February. Investigators got a court commissioner to say there was “probable cause’’ that Petersen was guilty of theft, having a conflict of interest and participating in a fraudulent scheme or practice. But none of that bore out, according to a statement to Keppel by assistant attorney general E.G. Noyes Jr.