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Defense attacks credibility of star-witness Kelly Norton in bribery trial

Kelly Norton

Kelly Norton

Kelly Norton was back on the stand in the “Ghost Lobby” trial Tuesday, this time under cross examination by a defense team intent on distorting her credibility in the eyes of the jury.

And some of the more personal details revealed in opening statements and during direct examination by Assistant U.S. Attorney Fred Battista were largely ignored.

Instead, emails and other records she kept during the time of the alleged bribery scheme were the focus. They were cast as incomplete, lacking other documents that demonstrated Sherry Pierce did do the job she was paid to do.

Pierce was hired as a contractor for Norton’s firm, KNB Consulting, and she was directed to do work on behalf of water utility owner George Johnson.

The trial is in its 7th day, and Norton is on the stand as the government’s critical witness in an indictment against her husband, lobbyist Jim Norton; former Corporation Commissioner Gary Pierce; his wife, Sherry Pierce; and Johnson.

Norton has maintained she “had no choice” but to hire Pierce, though she considered her unqualified for the job. She said her then-husband, lobbyist Jim Norton, told her to do so, and he “bullied” her into participating in the alleged scheme.

Norton has fueled the government’s narrative that Pierce was given a “no-show job” in exchange for $3,500 per month payments that came from Johnson through KNB Consulting. Those payments were allegedly bribes to gain Gary Pierce’s favorable votes while he sat on the Arizona Corporation Commission, which regulates Johnson’s water and wastewater company, Johnson Utilities.

While the government has used records Norton provided to bolster her testimony regarding Sherry Pierce’s work – or alleged lack thereof – the defense used records she did not initially turn over to do the opposite.

Sherry Pierce’s attorney, Ashley Adams, introduced emails between Norton and Pierce that were found on Norton’s computer, which she turned over in its entirety at the defense’s request ahead of trial. Before that, Norton only provided records and emails to the government as requested in a grand jury subpoena.

“I have nothing to hide,” Norton said.

But Adams argued the additional emails or portions of email threads found on Norton’s computer should have turned up in her searches for those that complied with the subpoena.

For example, she was told to perform a search for documents including Pierce’s name or email address, which were included on the additional emails the defense found.

Those emails included discussion of work Pierce was performing at Norton’s direction – though Norton said the directives really came from Jim Norton.

“You were directing her to do things, and she did them,” Adams said while questioning her.

Norton conceded yes, that was true.

And later, Johnson’s attorney, Woody Thompson, prompted a similar response.

“Mrs. Pierce delivered on those tasks [she was assigned], correct?” he asked Norton.

Again, she replied, “Yes.”

Additionally, the defense returned to the timeline presented by the government.

Norton paid Pierce for work she did related to the Pinal County Board of Supervisors and the Corporation Commission elections, including collecting $5 Clean Elections contributions for current Commissioner Bob Burns and former Commissioners Bob Stump and Susan Bitter Smith.

Those payments ran through July 2012, but Norton said she was told the arrangement would end as of August 1 of that year.

As the defense pointed out, the three commissioners Norton’s firm was doing work on behalf of with Sherry Pierce’s help had qualified for the primary ballot by that time.

The defense also brought some attention back to a land deal involving Gary Pierce and Jim Norton, which failed but which the government says was going to be financed by George Johnson as part of the alleged bribery scheme.

Kelly Norton said she “threw a total fit” when she learned about the deal and “put her foot down” to end it. She said the Nortons didn’t have the proposed $300,000 for the deal.

But Ashley Adams said Gary Pierce was going to do a “1031 exchange with his property in Yuma,” a detail Norton said she was not aware of.

According to the Internal Revenue Code, a 1031 exchange allows someone to sell a property, reinvest the proceeds in a new property and defer all capital gain taxes.

In any case, the deal was not successful.

The defense’s questioning of Kelly Norton did not even take up the entire day on June 12.

And apart from Facebook messages she posted about karma, she was not asked much about the circumstances leading up to her decision to file for divorce.

The posts about karma were instead left to hold up the defense’s characterization of Norton as a woman seeking revenge for multiple affairs she said Jim Norton had while they were still married.

And she was asked about some unflattering commentary she shared with federal investigators about people involved in Arizona’s political scene, including her ex-husband who she described as a “textbook narcissist.”

She described former Corporation Commissioner Bob Stump as “lazy,” and current Commissioner Tom Forese as “arrogant.”

She said Jessica Pacheco “liked to be large and in charge,” and that she was not qualified for her job as the vice president for state and local affairs at Arizona Public Service, another utility regulated by the Corporation Commission.

And she shared her thoughts about Gov. Doug Ducey, a longtime friend of Jim Norton. She claimed Ducey wanted to eliminate the Commission “because he likes to be in control.”

Ducey’s spokesman Daniel Scarpinato took to Twitter to counter that claim.

“This isn’t part of our agenda,” he wrote, “and any speculation to the contrary is incorrect.”

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