A jury awarded a former Maricopa County supervisor $21 million in a civil lawsuit against Pinal County utilities owner George Johnson.
Andy Kunasek filed a lawsuit in 2013 against Johnson and several others after he said he stopped receiving distributions from a trust. Johnson is the owner of Johnson Utilities and several other companies.
The jury awarded Kunasek $10.5 million in damages. Some of the defendants are also required to pay punitive damages to Kunasek, resulting in an additional $10.5 million.
Kunasek told The Arizona Republic it was a “horribly long process.” The case took six years. According to Kunasek, the facts were simple but the defense tried to make them more complicated.
“Based on the outcome, I have no regrets going through the process,” Kunasek said.
According to court documents, Johnson created Roadrunner Trust in 2007.
“The Roadrunner Trust was irrevocable and George Johnson had no right whatsoever to directly or indirectly alter, amend, revoke, or terminate the Roadrunner Trust,” the lawsuit said.
Kunasek and many of Johnson’s family members were beneficiaries of the trust. However, according to the lawsuit, Kunasek stopped receiving regular distributions without notice.
The lawsuit claims the distributions to Kunasek stopped because Johnson was upset after Kunasek refused to help him with a business matter. The claim didn’t include the details of that matter.
Johnson’s family members still received distributions from the trust, according to court records.
The lawsuit alleged the trust “improperly and wrongfully diverted millions of dollars of trust assets to business entities” controlled by Johnson and members of his family.
Kunasek also claimed Johnson was wrongfully paid by the trust.
Who is George Johnson?
Johnson has been involved in several high profile legal issues in the past, including one of the largest civil suits in the history of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Last year, he faced federal bribery charges involving an Arizona utility regulator. Prosecutors alleged that Johnson bribed the regulator, Gary Pierce, by paying Pierce’s wife to conduct political work.
In exchange, prosecutors said Pierce voted for higher rates for Johnson’s water company, Johnson Utilities, which serves the far East Valley. The case ended in a mistrial and prosecutors decided not to retry it.
Separately, state regulators at the Arizona Corporation Commission were forced to take legal action to force Johnson to allow an outside manager to step in and run the water and waste company.
That followed myriad problems with the utility, including water taps running dry in summer, sewer overflows and noxious gasses from a wastewater plant plaguing a neighborhood.
Johnson Utilities has about 35,000 customers in parts of Florence, Queen Creek and the San Tan Valley area.
After several failed legal challenges to hold off the interim manager, Johnson finally relented and the company is now being run by EPCOR USA. It was the first time the Corporation Commission ordered an interim manager to run a company as large as Johnson Utilities.
Recently, the Arizona Attorney General’s Office declined to pursue a case against Johnson following a report from the Florence town manager that Johnson threatened to cut his throat.
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