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Mon, Jan. 20

Former state utility regulator will not go on trial as scheduled

PHOENIX -- Former state utility regulator Gary Pierce and alleged co-conspirators will not be going on trial as scheduled Aug. 1.

In a new document filed Tuesday, attorneys for prosecutors and the defense have agreed to extend for another two months the deadline to file pretrial motions. That had been set for June 28.

The new target date would be Aug. 28.

That stipulation is subject to confirmation by U.S. District Court Judge John Tuchi. But given that this is the first request for a delay, there is little doubt that it will be approved.

Pierce, then a member of the Arizona Corporation Commission, is charged with accepting bribes from George H. Johnson, manager of the utility company that bears his name, in exchange for favorable votes on a rate hike request and a change in policy that allows the owners of small utilities like Johnson Utilities to pass along certain personal income tax obligations to customers.

According to the federal court indictment, Johnson funneled $31,500 through lobbyist Jim Norton and an unindicted co-conspirator to Sherry Pierce, Gary's wife, for what prosecutors contend was essentially a do-nothing job. The money allegedly wound up in a joint checking account.

There also is an allegation that Johnson was offering a piece of land to Gary Pierce.

All four have pleaded innocent to the charges of bribery and fraud and remain free without bond.

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