Former Arizona Corporation Commission Chairman Gary Pierce and Johnson Utilities owner George Johnson, among others, were indicted in federal court on charges of bribery, conspiracy and fraud.
Attorneys for former Arizona Corporation Commissioner Gary Pierce, his wife, a lobbyist and a utility owner entered not-guilty pleas in U.S. District Court on Wednesday to conspiracy, fraud and bribery charges related to utility rate hikes in 2011 and 2013.
Pierce, his wife Sherry, longtime lobbyist Jim Norton, and George Johnson, the owner of Johnson Utilities and other companies, appeared before Magistrate John Z. Boyle. None said a word other than to acknowledge that they understood the charges against them.
Specifically, they are facing one count each of conspiracy, bribery and mail fraud and four counts of wire fraud.
Boyle asked them to surrender their passports and set a trial date of Aug. 1.
Prosecutors Frederick Battista and Frank Galati would not comment after the arraignment. According to the indictment, federal investigators believe Pierce convinced other commissioners to approve higher wastewater rates for Johnson Utilities in the East Valley and Pinal County in exchange for $31,500, which the company allegedly funneled to Pierce’s wife, Sherry, over 10 months in 2011 and 2012.
Norton, according to the indictment, acted as a conduit between Johnson and Gary Pierce. The indictment further alleged Pierce planned to buy a $350,000 land parcel with funds provided by Johnson. The indictment does not state whether that transaction took place, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office would neither confirm nor deny.
A fifth conspirator is mentioned in the indictment but has not been named or indicted.
Pierce voted in 2011 to allow a rate increase for Johnson Utilities, and he voted in 2013 for a controversial change that allowed the utility to raise customer rates to pay the personal income tax of the company owners. Both hikes were approved by majority votes of the commission.
Republic reporter Ryan Randazzo contributed to this story.
MORE: Read the indictment
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