28 May 2017

Why The State of Arizona and The City of Mesa Need Investigative Reporting

Former AZ utility regulator, lobbyist, utility owner charged with conspiracy, bribery, fraud
By Evan Wyloge and Jim Small
Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting 
That's the headline from these two journalists. - one is the Executive Director and Editor and the other is the Senior Reporter at this nonprofit independent news source.
For some reason the elements in this scheme [in bold type for emphasis] stand out as too familiar in "business-as-usual" undisclosed practices for possible ways politics here in Mesa has worked for years . . . it might be interesting for these two investigative journalists to look into it with the resources they have. Your Mesazona blogger? Just curious; that's all at this point in time . . .
Water and Wastewater take a HUGE CHUNK out the entire city of Mesa's plans for Capital Improvement Projects, but anyone has not 'followed the money'
Here's the entire AZCIR report verbatim:
"Federal prosecutors on Tuesday charged former Arizona Corporation Commissioner Gary Pierce, his wife, prominent lobbyist Jim Norton and utility owner George Johnson with conspiracy, bribery, mail fraud and wire fraud, over what prosecutors lay out as a scheme to pay off Pierce in return for favorable regulation by the Corporation Commission surrounding a special $18 million wastewater plant deal.
According to the charges filed in U.S. District Court on May 23, Pierce, his wife and Norton set up a scheme to have Johnson, the head of a Pinal County water company, make regular payments to Pierce.
In all, Pierce got $31,500 from Johnson, prosecutors allege. In return, Johnson got a $18 million wastewater plant added back into the company’s base rate – essentially putting the entire cost onto ratepayers.
Pierce also spearheaded an effort to allow Johnson’s company to recover income taxes by passing the cost on to ratepayers.
Norton, who at the time worked for the lobbying firm R&R Partners, and an unnamed, unindicted co-conspirator ??? agreed to arrange the payments between Pierce and Johnson.
The co-conspirator created a consulting firm that contracted with Johnson International and was paid roughly $7,000 per month.
That consulting firm then paid Sherry Ann Pierce $3,500 a month for 10 months in 2011 and 2012 for what amounted to a job that included little more than “simple tasks.”
Norton and Pierce also made plans in late 2011 to purchase a $350,000 piece of land together, court documents show, using money that would have been provided by Johnson.
Federal prosecutors allege that Pierce “solicited, accepted and agreed to accept money, ultimately totaling $31,500, and solicited real property valued at approximately $350,000, from defendant (Norton)… intending to be influenced and rewarded in connection with matters Johnson Utilities LLC had pending before the (Arizona Corporation Commission)…”
They also allege that Sherry Ann Pierce, Norton and Johnson (did knowingly and intentionally aid the commission of the offense by routing payments and acting as a conduit of the money to (Gary Pierce) in order to hide the true nature and purpose of the payment of the money.”
Court records show that a grand jury reviewed several withdrawal and deposit records, emails, and invoices related to the scheme.

About: AZCIR is a nonprofit organization dedicated to statewide investigative reporting
The Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting is an independent, nonprofit media organization dedicated to statewide accountability journalism in Arizona. AZCIR’s mission is to produce, foster and promote investigative journalism through original and collaborative reporting, public events and trainings, for the betterment of our communities.
We accomplish this through innovative, interactive and in-depth investigative reporting that incorporates data analysis and visualizations, multimedia gathering for publication in all news mediums and interactive digital content such as geographic mapping and spatial analysis. We publish our content digitally on AZCIR.org and through partnerships with Arizona news organizations.
AZCIR seeks to establish itself as a voice for investigative reporting in Arizona, serving as a content producer and collaborator, as well as an organization that highlights and discusses exceptional accountability journalism in our state. We are working to build an environment of collaborative investigative journalism, by which newsrooms can combine resources for greater impact. AZCIR will serve at the core of those collaborations, in addition to providing original content for statewide distribution.
Please contact us here if you are interested in working with AZCIR. We also can accept your tax-exempt donation through our IRS determination as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.
Jim Small is the executive director and editor of the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting. His journalism work has largely focused on state government and politics, first as a reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times, then as editor of the paper and its prestigious sister publications, the Yellow Sheet Report and Arizona Legislative Report. He covered the complex state budget process, immigration issues, state prisons, education, the Arizona Corporation Commission, political campaigns and campaign finance matters. Under his guidance, the Capitol Times won numerous state, regional and national awards for its accountability journalism and probing investigations into state government operations, many of which were rooted in data collection and analysis. He began his journalism career covering city government, public safety and business for a pair of community newspapers in the West Valley
Evan Wyloge is the senior reporter  began as a journalist in 2003, and has focused on accountability and watchdog reporting, with an emphasis on data analysis, since 2008. He earned a political science degree from Northern Arizona University and a master’s degree in journalism from Arizona State University. He’s passionate about investigative reporting that has real impact and that uncovers stories that would have otherwise gone uncovered.

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