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Utility bribery case dismissed

Former Arizona Corporation Commissioner Gary Pierce, with bottle, and wife Sherry Pierce, both of whom stand accused in a bribery scheme, leave U.S. District Court in Phoenix after their arraignment on June 7, 2017.

Former Arizona Corporation Commissioner Gary Pierce, with bottle, and wife Sherry Pierce, both of whom were accused in a bribery scheme, leave U.S. District Court in Phoenix after their arraignment on June 7, 2017. After the first trial ended in a hung jury, prosecutors motioned to dismiss the case on August 7, 2018.

The government will not seek a second trial in the so-called “Ghost Lobby” bribery case.

On Tuesday, prosecutors filed a motion to dismiss all charges against former Arizona Corporation Commissioner Gary Pierce, his wife, Sherry Pierce, lobbyist Jim Norton and utility owner George Johnson.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment.

All four defendants were charged with felony conspiracy, bribery, mail fraud and five counts of wire fraud after the Pierces were alleged to have accepted $31,500 in bribes from Johnson in exchange for Gary Pierce’s favor while he sat on the Arizona Corporation Commission.

Jim Norton was accused of directing his now ex-wife, unindicted co-conspirator Kelly Norton, to hire Sherry Pierce at her firm, KNB Consulting, through which the money was allegedly funneled.

But the story woven by the prosecution did not stick with the majority of the jurors. After weeks in court, the jury was ultimately hung on July 17.

When the jurors determined they could not reach a unanimous verdict, jury foreperson Taryn Jeffries told the Arizona Capitol Times that the majority had been leaning toward acquitting all four defendants.

Jeffries had been one of seven jurors who believed they were innocent, and on Tuesday, she said the government made the right choice by not pursuing the case further.

She said the case felt rushed, and she saw nothing to suggest the defendants were guilty.

“Now I know this was part of something much bigger. It’s a tiny part of this huge thing,” she said, comparing the trial to pre-season football. “This was their way of seeing maybe of how that would go.”

The “Ghost Lobby” case stemmed from a larger investigation, dubbed “Operation High Grid” in government documents.

The defendants had been offered plea deals ahead of their trial in exchange for their cooperation on the “High Grid” investigation, which is related to spending in the 2014 elections. But they rejected the offers and have maintained their innocence.

Any details about that case had been barred from the “Ghost Lobby” trial by U.S. District Court Judge John Tuchi.

But Jeffries knew something was missing all along.

From her perspective, the prosecution lacked a real conviction that they were pursuing justice. That led her to think that even the prosecutors believed their case was weak in the end.

“Maybe in the beginning they really felt like they had everything they needed to stick it to these people,” she said. “But my perception of the closing arguments was essentially that they felt defeated, that they knew they weren’t going to get the outcome that they wanted. And they didn’t.

“It wasn’t enough.”

Tuchi will still have to issue an order officially dismissing the case.

One comment

  1. I’m so happy to see this case finally dropped. I was Pierce’s policy advisor at the Corporation Commission from January 2007 to January 2013. When the indictment came out in May 2017, I could not answer all of the questions it raised, but I knew enough from my work with Pierce at the Commission to know that the Feds were pursuing a bogus case. I couldn’t say for certain that everything was copacetic with Sherry Pierce’s work for Shelly Norton, but I knew for certain that that work–whatever it was about–did not cause Gary to vote the way he did on the income tax issue and the reopening of the Johnson Utilities rate case.

    I knew the Government’s case was flawed back in June 2017 and I tried to share what I knew about it to the Corporation Commission, but the Commission didn’t want to hear from me: http://azcc.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=3&clip_id=2772

    It’s inexplicable to me that the Commission didn’t want to hear what I was prepared to share with them in an open meeting back in June 2017. http://docket.images.azcc.gov/0000180474.pdf

    It’s even more disturbing to me that the Feds did not want to truth-check the allegations made in the indictment against information I might be able to provide them. It’s as if they didn’t want to know what the facts were, just in case those facts might be counter to the claims made in their indictment. To me, that’s an unethical failure to perform due diligence on their case. Very troubling.

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