Defendants reject plea offers in Corporation Commission bribery case

By Howard Fischer |Capitol Media Services via Arizona Capitol Times

Plea deals offered to a former state utility regulator and a lobbyist suggests that federal prosecutors are not done looking at other possible criminal activities at the Arizona Corporation Commission.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Frederick Battista disclosed Wednesday that his office had offered to let Gary Pierce plead guilty to a single felony and be placed on probation if he would cooperate with the government on other potential criminal matters. Pierce, who had been commission chairman – and whose indictment on charges of bribery and fraud relate to activities he undertook in that role – rejected the bid.

Lobbyist Jim Norton also got a similar offer, Battista said. But this one had a twist: Prosecutors would consider dismissing all the bribery and fraud charges against him if he provided “extraordinary” cooperation with them.

Norton rejected the deal.

The disclosures came ahead of a jury being selected in federal court here to determine the fate of not only Pierce and Norton but also Pierce’s wife, Sherry, and utility owner George Johnson.

Johnson and Sherry Pierce also got similar offers to plead to a single felony and avoid prison, but without any requirement to cooperate. In Johnson’s case, the sole condition was that he agree to a maximum fine of up to $100,000; Sherry would have simply been allowed to plead guilty to a felony and be placed on probation with no other preconditions.

Defense attorneys said these, too, were rejected.

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