On July 3, 1975, jurors in United States District Court acquit state Senator August P. Mardesich (1920-2016) of charges that he extorted $10,000 from two garbage company executives and did not report the money on his income taxes. The federal trial of the powerful Democratic leader from Everett is the culmination of accusations first made in 1973 by a close ally of Mardesich's Democratic rival, Senator R. R. "Bob" Greive (1919-2004), following a bitter contest in which Mardesich displaced Greive as majority leader. Prosecutors contend that in 1971 Mardesich received cash payments of $5,000 each from Warren Razore of Seattle Disposal Company and Bruce J. Leven of Bayside Disposal Company on the day that the Senate passed legislation sought by the garbage industry. Mardesich does not deny receiving the payments but contends they were campaign contributions unrelated to the legislation.
"Augie" Mardesich, a commercial fisherman and lawyer from Everett, had served in the Washington Legislature for 25 years at the time of his trial. He was appointed to the House of Representatives in 1950 to replace his older brother Tony, who was elected in 1948 and died the following year in a Bering Sea fishing accident along with their father (Augie and two other brothers survived the sinking of the family purse seiner). Mardesich flourished in the House, repeatedly winning re-election and rising to become House majority leader. He moved to the Senate in 1964 and again rose through the leadership ranks.
After the November 1972 elections, Mardesich took aim at fellow Democrat R. R. "Bob" Greive, the longtime Senate majority leader who had become unpopular with some Democratic senators over how he ran the Senate and rewarded or punished fellow legislators. Mardesich won the bitter battle, becoming majority leader for the 1973 session, but the antagonism led directly to the charges against him. On January 12, 1973, George Martonik, a close ally of Greive and a Senate clerk until being fired following the leadership change, accused Mardesich of taking a $20,000 payoff from two garbage industry executives in 1971.
In addition to his position as Senate clerk, Martonik served as executive secretary of the Refuse Removal Association, a garbage industry trade group. In a sworn affidavit, Martonik alleged that at a meeting of the Association in May 1971, Seattle Disposal's Warren Razore and Bayside Disposal's Bruce Leven said they paid Mardesich $10,000 each to win passage of an amendment to Senate Bill 52, which was then pending before the legislature. The amendment, which would have required local governments extending garbage collection to an area served by a private company to compensate the company, passed, but was vetoed by Governor Dan Evans (b. 1925).
Mardesich adamantly denied Martonik's accusations, which he blamed on Greive. Razore and Leven also disputed the assertion, as did other Refuse Association officials. Martonik's affidavit triggered a grand jury investigation, although little occurred until the summer of 1974, when Leven was summoned to testify. Both Leven and Razore refused to testify before the grand jury until they were granted immunity from prosecution for anything they discussed. In addition to garbage officials, the grand jury heard from various legislators and candidates to whom Mardesich had made contributions. Eventually Mardesich himself voluntarily testified.
Even as the grand jury investigated him, Mardesich continued to head Senate Democrats, implementing changes to the organization and procedures used by Greive. He took credit for reforming the administration of political contributions so that they were doled out by a committee rather than by the majority leader personally as under Greive, and for streamlining the Senate's committee structure and improving budget analysis. Greive's political fall continued, as he lost his Senate seat in the 1974 election (he rebounded by winning a King County Council seat the following year), but he claimed vindication when the grand jury indicted Mardesich.
The indictment came on January 9, 1975, one day after Mardesich had testified to the grand jury. Although Martonik originally alleged that Mardesich received a total of $20,000 from Leven and Razore, the indictment asserted that each man paid him $5,000 to support the 1971 legislation favoring private garbage companies. Mardesich was charged with extorting the two $5,000 payments and failing to report the $10,000 on his federal tax return. Despite facing the felony charges, Mardesich remained majority leader during the 1975 legislative session.
His trial was held after the session was over. The eight-day trial began in late June 1975 with visiting U.S. District Court Judge Charles Renfrew from San Francisco presiding. At trial, Mardesich, Leven, and Razore all admitted that the two garbage company executives each gave Mardesich a plain white envelope containing $5,000 in cash on the day in 1971 that the Senate passed the bill their companies wanted. Leven testified that Mardesich said he "needed" $10,000 "as soon as possible" but did not make promises or threats (Wright).
Mardesich asserted that the payments were campaign contributions to his successful attempt to win the majority leader post from Greive and were not related to his support for the garbage collection legislation. He reported storing the cash in an empty whiskey carton and using it to purchase stamps for other political candidates.
The jury was not convinced that the payments were extorted or should have been reported on Mardesich's income tax. After deliberating for a day, and asking to have Leven's testimony read back to them, the jurors reported their verdict on Thursday, July 3, 1975: not guilty on both charges.
After the verdict, Mardesich said he intended to keep the majority leader post and joked that he had gotten so much publicity from the trial that he should run for governor. However, he ended up resigning the leadership position before the next year's legislative session. Three years later, Mardesich lost his seat in the Senate. Labor unions that saw Mardesich as opposed to their interests backed Larry Vognild in a successful challenge to Mardesich in the 1978 Democratic primary.