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Former Arizona Corporation Commission Chairman Gary Pierce and Johnson Utilities owner George Johnson were indicted on charges of bribery and conspiracy.
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Defense lawyers on Tuesday grilled the government’s key witness in a bribery trial involving a former utility regulator, zeroing in on her Facebook posts regarding “karma” and questioning whether her testimony is an act of revenge against her ex-husband.  

The lawyers for former Arizona Corporation Commissioner Gary Pierce, his wife, Sherry, lobbyist Jim Norton and water company owner George Johnson spent most of Tuesday questioning Norton’s ex-wife, Kelly.

Prosecutors gave Kelly Norton immunity for her testimony in the case. They say Johnson paid bribes to the Pierces by funneling cash through the Nortons, and in exchange, Gary Pierce helped pass rate increases for Johnson’s water company.

Their theory hinges largely on Kelly Norton’s version of events and records she produced.

‘You will get what you deserve’

Defense lawyers showed Kelly Norton posts she made on Facebook during her divorce in 2015 and in 2017 after she had been talking to the FBI about the case.

“Welcome to Karma Café. There are no menus. You will get what you deserve,” one of her posts read.

Prosecutors already established that Kelly Norton divorced Jim after he had multiple affairs, and defense lawyers did not ask her about that subject. But they did press her on the subject of revenge.   

“The best revenge is always to just happily move on and let Karma do the rest,” said another Facebook post she made in April last year. That was before the defendants in the case were indicted but after she had divorced her husband and taken her information to the FBI.  

Defense lawyer Woody Thompson asked Norton whether one of the posts was about her husband. She said no.

“Looking at those three posts about karma, is karma about revenge in your opinion,” Thompson asked.

“No, it is not,” she responded.

Kelly Norton previously testified that she took her information to the FBI because she feared going to prison.

‘If you’re lucky, god will let you watch’

Thompson did not let up, though. He showed the jury another post she made that said, “Karma. No need for revenge. Just sit back and wait. Those who hurt you will eventually screw up themselves and if you’re lucky, god will let you watch.”

Norton said in earlier testimony that she made that particular post in reference to herself, because she was afraid karma would catch up with her for her role in the bribery arrangement. 

“I believe you testified it was about you?” Thompson said. “Are you watching yourself?”

She responded, “If you know about karma, it comes back to you as much as anybody else … It is an equalizer.”

He continued to question how the post could be about herself.

“Was that you watching yourself?” he asked.

She finally responded that she “probably didn’t give it that much thought.”

Candid descriptions of Arizona political elites

Defense lawyers also asked her about descriptions she gave of the defendants and their political allies when she was questioned ahead of the trial.

Kelly Norton was asked to review her statements regarding a cast of political notaries, and most were negative.

Her husband was a “textbook narcissist.”

Sherry Pierce: “Walks behind her husband.”

Political consultant Scot Mussi: “Creepy.”

Former Corporation Commissioner Bob Stump: “Lazy.”

Corporation Commission Chairman Tom Forese: “Arrogant.”

Johnson Utilities minority owner Brian Tompsett: “Weird.”

Arizona Public Service Co. lobbyist Jessica Pacheco: “Not qualified for the job.”

Lawyers did not explain, and Norton was not asked, why she was asked about an APS employee.

The state’s biggest electric company is not a part of the current case. An APS official said the company was contacted by the U.S. Attorney on the same day in 2016 Pierce said he was visited by the FBI, before the indictments came down in the current case.

Kelly Norton: Ducey wanted to end Corporation Commission

Lawyers also asked Norton about Gov. Doug Ducey, who is a friend of her ex-husband and one of his fraternity brothers from Arizona State University.

She said Ducey wanted to get rid of the Corporation Commission.

She explained there was talk of consolidating different agencies, but doing so to the Corporation Commission would require a Constitutional amendment. She did not give a timeframe for those discussions. 

Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said Tuesday that eliminating the Corporation Commission was not among the governor’s goals.

“If we had wanted to propose eliminating the Corporation Commission we would have already done so,” he said on Twitter. “We haven’t. This isn’t part of our agenda, and any speculation to the contrary is incorrect.”

However, Ducey did appoint Andy Tobin to fill a vacancy on the commission, and Tobin has proposed reorganizing the commission and shifting many of its duties to other state agencies.

Real estate agent contradicts defense lawyers

Norton’s testimony concluded and prosecutors moved on to the next witness, former Mesa Councilman Rex Griswold, who was involved in a real estate transaction in the case.

Prosecutors say Pierce tried to buy a Mesa property in 2012 with Johnson’s money but the sale fell through.

Defense lawyers have said the transaction was not going to use Johnson’s money but was intended to be a 1031 property exchange. A 1031 exchange allows property sellers to delay taxes on the transaction if they reinvest the money in another property.

Griswold, as the real estate agent who represented Pierce and Jim Norton as the proposed buyers, said he never heard mention of such an exchange in the deal. Defense lawyers did not yet have an opportunity to question him.

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The Arizona Republic’s Ryan Randazzo explains what the Arizona Corporation Commission does and how these five elected officials can have a big impact on your electric bill.

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