FLORENCE — The FBI recently inquired into facts related to the town of Florence’s interest in buying Johnson Utilities several years ago, according to filings in Pinal County Superior Court.
Johnson Utilities and owner George Johnson sued the town and top town officials earlier this year, claiming the town refused a legal request to produce public records. A motion by the town, filed May 31, says the town provided copies of communications between the town and the FBI “concerning a public records request related to Defendants’ (the town’s) past attempts to purchase Johnson Utilities.”
The town said it complied with the FBI’s investigation and provided copies of the town and Johnson’s “Mutual Non-Disclosure Agreement relating to the 2013 potential purchase of Johnson Utilities by Defendants” on Nov. 19.
“At present the town has no further comment on the FBI inquiry. In regards to the pending lawsuit, the town believes it fully and satisfactorily responded to the public records request and complied fully with the Arizona Public Records statute. We expect the court will agree,” William H. Doyle, the town’s outside legal counsel on the case, commented by email to PinalCentral.
The FBI previously investigated allegations that Johnson bribed an Arizona corporation commissioner. The case ended last year with a mistrial when the jury could not reach a unanimous verdict.
Johnson’s attorneys wrote to the town on Oct. 4 seeking copies of communications the town had with other local, county and state agencies and authorities about Johnson Utilities and its related entities and companies. Five months later, Johnson sued, alleging that Florence withheld records by falsely claiming the records were protected by attorney-client privilege or work-product privilege.
The complaint says the town did produce a few records, but nothing like the “substantial and voluminous documents and communications” covered by the request, and nothing related to the town’s bid to become interim manager of Johnson Utilities.
In the town’s motion May 31 for a quick verdict or “summary judgment,” the town says it actually provided Johnson with links to more than 7,000 pages. Johnson sued before his lawyers even opened the link to see these documents, according to the town.
Johnson argues he knows more records exist because the Arizona Corporation Commission complied with a public records request that included emails with the town. The town replied that since Johnson already has these records, to request them again “is unnecessary and needlessly burdensome.”