By Katie Campbell | Arizona Capitol Times
The government’s decision to drop a bribery case involving a former regulator and utility owner leaves the question of what will come of its parent investigation.
Judge John Tuchi, of U.S. District Court in Phoenix, on August 8 approved the request by the U.S. Attorney for Arizona to dismiss felony conspiracy, bribery, mail fraud, and wire fraud charges against former Arizona Corporation Commissioner Gary Pierce, his wife Sherry Pierce, lobbyist Jim Norton and utility owner George Johnson.
The dismissal came three weeks after a jury was hung, ending 14 days of testimony over a five-week span.
And one thing jurors never heard about was the larger investigation from which the case, dubbed by prosecutors as “Operation Ghost Lobby,” stemmed.
Investigators stumbled upon Ghost Lobby during their investigation of “Operation High Grid.”
It is widely known the FBI has been looking into certain statewide races in the 2014 election, and Gary Pierce has acknowledged talking to investigators about the secretary of state’s race that year – his son, Justin Pierce, was a candidate in the Republican primary.
The Corporation Commission and Pinnacle West Capital Corp., parent company of Arizona Public Service, have also disclosed contact with the FBI.
Attorney Kory Langhofer, a former assistant U.S. attorney whose practice involves politics and election law, said investigators thought they could indict the “Ghost Lobby” defendants and scare them into flipping on the other case. But that plan failed, first, when the defendants refused plea deals in exchange for their cooperation, and again when the story did not stick and the jury was ultimately hung on July 17.
“Turns out when you indict innocent people, they’re not enthusiastic about flipping and telling you they committed crimes they didn’t commit,” Langhofer said.
Now, he doubts prosecutors will ever be able to make something of “High Grid,” which he said is an “even worse” case than “Ghost Lobby.”