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Report: Johnson Utilities owner threatened town manager with violence

George Johnson denied allegations

George Johnson (Photo by Jake Kincaid/Pinal Central.com)

George Johnson (Photo by Jake Kincaid/Pinal Central.com)

The Florence town manager told police that the owner of Johnson Utilities threatened last year to cut his throat.

Newly released documents Thursday show that Brent Billingsley told police he got a call June 8 from George Johnson as the town manager was documenting utility company trucks leaking possibly contaminated materials on Diversion Dam Road. Billingsley said that lab results showed the spillage “has identical bacteria components to raw sewage.”

What followed, the police report says, was Billingsley getting a call from Johnson saying, “I’m tired of  you sons of bitches,” and that “I’m going to cut your f—ing throat.”

Johnson, for his part, denied any such conversation.

“I’m a business person,” he told an investigator for the Attorney General’s Office, which took over the probe.

“I don’t go around threatening people,” the report quotes him, saying Johnson called Billingsley a liar. But he declined to answer further questions without an attorney, later supplying a written affidavit invoking his right to remain silent.

The case was dropped after a lawyer from the Attorney General’s Office pointed out the call was not recorded and there were no other witnesses.

“There is no corroboration regarding the threat and thus there is no reasonable likelihood of conviction in this case,” wrote Assistant Attorney General Adam Schwart. But the documents, including the police report, were not released until Thursday.

Billingsley previously told PinalCentral.com that he respects the attorney general’s decision but stands by the original statements he made to police.

The incident occurred even as Johnson and others were on trial in federal court on charges of bribery and fraud. That case ended in a mistrial when jurors could not reach a verdict; federal prosecutors decided against a new trial.

But the reports by police and the attorney general suggest that other more specific incidents led to whatever happened.

At the time the town was an intervenor in a case before the Arizona Corporation Commission where utility regulators were trying to determine whether to place an interim manager in charge of Johnson Utilities which supplies water and wastewater services for San Tan, Florence and Queen Creek homes and businesses.

A commission hearing officer had recommended the panel take control of the company and install its own interim manager.

She said the company “failed to provide service and equipment that is in all respects just, reasonable, safe, proper, adequate and sufficient.” And the hearing officer said some of that is due to the failure of the company to spend the money necessary for repairs and equipment.

Florence and Queen Creek made a joint bid to take over but the commission eventually awarded the contract to EPCOR.

But what appears to have been the triggering factor was the concern of Florence officials that Johnson Utilities was spreading sludge from its sewage treatment plants onto public property.

Billingsley told police that he was investigating contamination and was taking photos of the sludge process when a driver of one of the Johnson Utilities tractors drove near the fence line and started to take pictures of him and his marked town vehicle.

The call, according to Billingsley, started with Johnson asking “do you have a problem with me putting sludge on my land?” The town manager said he responded that “we just want to make sure that it is going on your land.”

That, Billingsley said, led to Johnson saying, “I’m tired of you sons of bitches. I’m going to cut your f—ing throat. I’m going to find out where you live. I’m going to take your house. I’m going to sue your asses off,” before Johnson hung up.

Billingsley told police he thought the threats were serious, which is why he wrote down the comments.

Town police initially sought to hand the case off to the Pinal County Sheriff’s Department given the potential conflict of interest of the case given the ongoing dispute between Johnson Utilities and the town over the appointment of an interim manager. It eventually wound up with the Attorney General’s Office.

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