PHOENIX — A lobbyist is asking a judge to delete several allegations in an indictment that accuses him of serving as a middle man in a scheme to bribe an Arizona utility regulator on behalf of a water company owner.
Lobbyist Jim Norton isn’t seeking to have the entire indictment thrown out, but his lawyer said in a filing late last week that passages within the document should be cut because they have nothing to do with the charges, are prejudicial or barred by the statute of limitations.
Norton, for instance, wants to cut an allegation he acted as a go-between for then-Corporation Commissioner Gary Pierce and water company owner George Johnson in arranging the purchase of a $350,000 property for Pierce in exchange for favorable votes for Johnson’s business.
The lobbyist also is seeking to delete an allegation that Pierce told Norton in an email that he would advise a real estate agent to take Pierce’s name off a letter on the intent to purchase the property and instead leave the lobbyist’s name on the document.
The indictment alleges Johnson funneled $31,000 through Norton to Pierce and Pierce’s wife for favorable treatment in a rate case before the commission. It also said Gary Pierce voted in 2011 to let Johnson’s water company request that Johnson’s personal income taxes be covered by the utility’s customers.
The indictment said the money for the real estate deal was to be provided by Johnson, though it’s unknown if such a real estate deal was completed.
Pierce, his wife, Norton and Johnson pleaded not guilty to fraud and bribery charges. Their trial is set for May 30.
Authorities have said the bribery allegations were discovered during a larger, unrelated federal investigation, though prosecutors have declined to reveal the focus of the broader examination.
Pierce, who left the commission in early 2015 because of term limits, has acknowledged that he was questioned by FBI agents investigating the 2014 commission election.
The parent company of electric utility Arizona Public Service Co. was widely believed to have spent $3.2 million backing Republicans for the utility commission.
The parent company, Pinnacle West Capital Corp., disclosed in public filings in August 2016 that it had received federal grand jury subpoenas seeking information on the elections involving the commission and secretary of state.
The FBI has said it was conducting a long-term investigation related to the financing of certain statewide elections in 2014 but it has not named APS.