Indicted lobbyist steps away from firm as clients leave

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Jim Norton (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Jim Norton (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
PHOENIX (AP) -

Arizona lobbyist Jim Norton is stepping away from his political consulting firm to focus on his legal defense against a felony indictment, as some of the firm's top clients take their business elsewhere.

Norton is a managing partner of Axiom Public Affairs. He was indicted along with three others in federal court last week on felony conspiracy, bribery, mail fraud and wire fraud charges.

[RELATED: Ex-AZ Corp. Commissioner, owner of Johnson Utilities indicted on bribery charges]

Firm partner Kelsey Lundy will take over as managing partner in Norton's absence.

"While we firmly and unequivocally believe allegations made in the federal indictment released last week are incomplete and fundamentally flawed, we also recognize the gravity of this situation and its effect on the impeccable reputation of Jim Norton and our firm," Lundy and Norton wrote in a letter to clients.

Two major clients, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and United Healthcare, dropped the firm on Tuesday, according to online records from the Secretary of State's Office.

Airbnb Inc., the San Francisco-based home-sharing service, and the Maricopa County Community Colleges District are also leaving the firm.

"After learning of the indictment, Maricopa made the decision to exercise our 15-day option and will terminate that particular contract," district spokesman Matt Hasson wrote.

Norton has denied any wrongdoing.

"I am innocent and will be entering a plea of not guilty," he said last week. "I am confident these allegations will be shown to be without merit."

Former Arizona Corporation Commission Chairman Gary Pierce, Johnson Utilities owner George Johnson, and Pierce's wife, Sherry Ann Pierce, were also indicted.

[RELATED: Utility regulators look at big changes following federal indictment]

Johnson is accused of paying the Pierces through Norton and an unindicted co-conspirator to help secure commission approval of higher rates for Johnson Utilities in the East Valley and Pinal County.

Calls left for Gary Pierce, Sherry Ann Pierce and Tom Irvine, an attorney who represents Johnson, have not been returned.

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