News Feature | July 7, 2017

Arizona Water Regulator Faces Fraud, Bribery Charges

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome

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A former water utility regulator from Arizona will be tried this year for an alleged bribery scheme benefitting a water company official. 

Former Arizona Corporation Commissioner Gary Pierce and three others are charged in the alleged scheme, according to the Associated Press. Pierce, his wife Sherry, water company owner George Johnson, and lobbyist Jim Norton will go on trial in October. 

They pleaded not guilty to fraud and bribery charges, the report said. 

“Prosecutors say Johnson funneled $31,000 through Norton to Pierce and his wife for favorable treatment in a rate case being decided by the commission. Prosecutors say Pierce also was the intended recipient of a $350,000 property that was supposed to be paid for by Johnson, though it’s unknown if the real estate deal was in fact completed,” the AP reported. 

At the center of the controversy is Pierce’s vote, in 2011, to increase water rates for customers of Johnson Utilities in Pinal County, according to The Arizona Republic. Sherry Pierce was allegedly given cash in exchange for the vote, and Norton allegedly acted as the middleman, the report said. 

“The water case in which Pierce now faces criminal charges was not the biggest of his tenure but certainly was one of the more complex, stretching over six years and several changes in commission members,” the report said. 

The Arizona Republic editorial board called it one of the worst government scandals in Arizona history. In the aftermath of the scandal, the board had a word of advice for water utilities. 

“Utilities that have aggressively been working to shape the election of commissioners need to understand how that activity looks to an increasingly more skeptical public,” the board wrote.

The allegations against Pierce were prompted by a larger probe of government dealings in Arizona. 

“Federal prosecutors say the indictment of a former Arizona utility regulator and three others in an alleged bribery scheme aimed at benefiting a water company owner stems from a much larger and more intensive investigation,” the AP reported

“A prosecution email to defense lawyers seeking pretrial disclosure of FBI reports and other information cites the larger investigation but doesn't provide details,” the report said. 

To read more about scandals involving utility employees visit Water Online’s Labor Solutions Center

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