Bitter Smith won’t face any criminal charges over her alleged conflicts of interest. The Attorney General’s office sent a letter to Bitter Smith’s attorneys, Ed Novak and Rick Romley, on Jan. 11, informing them that the case is now closed. (The civil case against Bitter Smith was concluded when Brnovich officially withdrew his petition, which sought her removal from office.) Donald Conrad, chief counsel of the AG’s criminal division, and Paul Ahler, the section chief counsel of the fraud and special prosecutions unit, wrote that their office has spent the “last several months engaged in an investigation of possible criminal conduct” by Bitter Smith.
The AG said it was investigating whether Bitter Smith had violated ARS 38-503, which contains the state’s conflict-of-interest prohibitions. But Conrad and Ahler said that, “after reviewing related documentation and conducting various interviews,” there was “insufficient evidence” to bring a criminal case against Bitter Smith.
Missing from Brnovich’s Nov. 30 petition to the court was a key accusation from attorney Tom Ryan’s complaint. The attorney had alleged that Bitter Smith’s ownership of Technical Solutions, a firm that offers lobbying services at many levels, including at the Corp Comm, and which specializes in land acquisition services for telecom sites, is another point of conflict. Additionally, Ryan had raised questions about the commissioner’s role in a golf course project in Scottsdale that involved the moving of an APS substation.From the Arizona Republic:
Attorney General Mark Brnovich said after her resignation that his staff continued to investigate potential criminal charges against Bitter Smith. But a letter to her attorney's this week said that investigation has concluded.
"After reviewing related documentation and conducting various interviews, we have reached the conclusion that there is insufficient evidence to warrant a criminal prosecution," wrote Donald Conrad, chief counsel for the criminal division, and Paul Ahler, section chief counsel for the fraud and special prosecution section.
One of Bitter Smith's attorneys, Edward Novak, said the decision was anticipated.
"We've been expecting this for a couple of months," he said.
In addition to the citizen complaint to the Attorney General's Office that spurred those investigations, a separate complaint was made to the U.S. Attorney for Arizona, this one filed by a conservative group called the Public Integrity Alliance. There has been no action by the U.S. Attorney's office to pursue charges against Bitter Smith.
Insufficient evidence to file charges is a purposely vague expression that could mean many things, including the possibility that the AG's office decided not to dedicate any of its resources to gathering any information. That the Yellow Sheet put the expression in quotes seems to imply they also believe it was nothing more than a judgment call by the AG.
Left unsaid perhaps, is that Brnovich thinks the public has been vindicated already by her removal from office. Or, that they would expect a much more vigorous fight from Bitter Smith and criminal prosecution would be more costly to the people than it's worth.