Former Arizona Corporation Commissioner Gary Pierce and Johnson Utilities owner George Johnson have been indicted in federal court for bribery, conspiracy, and other related charges.
The 17-page indictment filed in U.S. District Court on Tuesday alleges that Johnson and Pierce developed an elaborate scheme that paid Pierce over $30,000 and provided employment for his wife, who is also named in the indictment. In return, Pierce pushed through a rate increase for Johnson Utilities to pay for a personal tax debt Johnson owed.
Johnson allegedly used a lobbying firm to funnel money to Pierce and provide employment for his wife. He also reportedly offered Pierce and the lobbyist, "the opportunity to purchase land valued at approximately $350,000."
Johnson Utilities has been the subject of scrutiny for some years over rate increases and quality of water that they provide to residents in San Tan Valley.
The company serves tens of thousands of customers across Pinal County. Some residents were stunned to hear about the charges, others were outraged.
Over the last few years, dozens of people filed complaints against the utility company.
Reports ranged from high levels of nitrate, E-coli incidents, sewage overflow, billing issues and water shutoffs.
Keith Kincheloe, a Johnson Utilities customer has experienced issues with billing in the past.
"When I go to pay my bill and the water gets shut off, even though I paid before the due date, that's one of my personal problems," Kincheloe said.
Melissa Figueroa, another Johnson Utilities customer, said she has noticed an issue with the taste and smell of the water.
"We can't brush our teeth without the smell of sewage so I've had to put gallons of water in every bathroom," Figueroa said. "I have to base my cooking around whether I have enough bottled water to make pasta, rice, or do I want to make sewage soup tonight."
Tish Castillo, another customer, said she wants answers from the utility company and the Arizona Corporation Commission that oversees it.
"I'd like to know when we'll get our money back that shouldn't have been passed on to us as a rate payer," Castillo said.
Other residents repeatedly asked the ACC to look into the relationship between Johnson and elected commissioners. Many explained that they've lost trust in the ACC and want to know what was being done to make sure no other forms of bribery or corruption existed between elected commissioners and utility companies that they oversee.