Montana Public Service Commissioner Randy Pinocci was arrested in Great Falls Friday on two felony witness tampering charges related to an ongoing investigation into a disorderly conduct allegation that previously landed him in jail last month.
Cascade County Sheriff Jesse Slaughter announced the new charges on Friday in a press conference. Pinocci was booked Friday morning and held on a $2,500 bond, according to the county jail roster. It is not immediately clear whether he has been released.
An affidavit filed by the Cascade County Attorney’s Office this week alleges that Pinocci refused to discuss returning a tenant’s security deposit unless she recanted testimony she provided to law enforcement regarding the disorderly conduct charge.
“This isn’t a pleasant situation for anyone in our community, when a person of trust is arrested in a matter like this,” Slaughter told reporters. “We try to be as consistent as we can be, treating people the same as much as possible, and maintain public trust as best we can. Obviously, he’ll have his day in court.”
The arrest, Pinocci’s second in as many months, stems from an alleged altercation in July between Pinocci and a tenant at one of his properties over a security deposit.
According to the affidavit, Pinocci was conducting a property walkthrough July 5 with a tenant and the tenant’s friend. The tenant’s friend allegedly became angry at Pinocci and accused him of taking advantage of the tenant in regards to their security deposit. A neighbor, another tenant of Pinocci’s, witnessed an altercation break out between Pinocci and the friend, later telling deputies that the two were yelling at each other and bumping chests.
The argument ended when Pinocci called the sheriff’s office, per the affidavit. Deputies ultimately cited both Pinocci and the tenant’s friend with disorderly conduct. Pinocci was scheduled to make an initial appearance in court the next day, but was granted a continuance. He later requested a second continuance, which was denied. Pinocci, according to the affidavit, nevertheless failed to show up in court, resulting in an arrest warrant being issued. He was subsequently arrested on Sept. 6, as first reported by the Helena Independent Record.
Law enforcement discovered evidence of alleged witness tampering by Pinocci through the course of their investigation into the disorderly conduct charge, Slaughter said Friday.
According to court records, the neighbor who witnessed the original altercation was mowing her lawn later in July. She texted Pinocci to offer to mow the now-vacant adjoining property’s lawn as well.
Pinocci’s alleged response, reprinted in the affidavit, reads in part: “For us to continue a relationship, you’re going to have to recant your testimony with the sheriff’s department.” Pinocci went on to describe his version of events, saying that the tenant’s friend pushed him around, but that he did not “touch him at all” in response and that they did not bump chests.
“You get your testimony corrected and will [sic] talk about working together in the future,” Pinocci texted, according to court documents.
The next month, the neighbor was preparing to move out of her own home. According to court documents, Pinocci came to do a walkthrough and told her that he would not return any of the $5,400 security deposit, citing damages to the property. In a later phone call, the neighbor attempted to strike a deal, offering to let Pinocci keep $1,000 of the deposit. According to the affidavit, Pinocci responded that he would not discuss the matter until she recanted her testimony.
Pinocci faces a witness tampering charge stemming from each of those conversations with the neighbor. Montana state law specifies that felony witness tampering is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $50,000 fine. The Montana Constitution says that “no person convicted of a felony shall be eligible to hold office until his final discharge from state supervision.”
Pinocci, a Republican, has served on the Public Service Commission, Montana’s utility regulation body, since 2019 and previously represented Sun River in the state Legislature. He ran unopposed in his most recent general election. He has also considered a 2024 run for the U.S. House of Representatives, a fact revealed through the course of a lawsuit Pinocci filed against the Montana Department of Transportation alleging that a state law restricting the length of time candidates’ supporters can display campaign signs after an election violates the First Amendment.
Supporters of Pinocci, according to that lawsuit, continued to display Pinocci signs after the statutory time limit “because they regard Pinocci as a hard-working public servant with a keen intellect and want to encourage him to run for higher office, such as the U.S. House of Representatives.”
An attorney for Pinocci in his criminal case, Helena’s Ben Reed, said in an interview Friday he has not yet read the allegations against his client, but that he regrets “the county attorney did not take the opportunity to hear my client’s side of the story before filing charges against my client.”
“I have every faith that once this matter is either heard by a jury or once we have an opportunity to work with the county attorney, this will be appropriately resolved,” Reed continued, adding that he believes Pinocci will be found innocent.
Reed was chief legal counsel at the Public Service Commission from 2021 to 2022.
A spokesperson for the PSC, Lucas Hamilton, said in a statement that the commission and its staff remain focused on “ensuring continued access to utility services that are safe, reliable, affordable, and sustainable for the long-term.”
“Regrettably, news like this can distract the public from the important work we do,” Hamilton added. “As far as the agency is concerned, however, this is a private matter for Commissioner Pinocci, and it has no bearing on the day-to-day work we do to protect the public interest.”
Pinocci did not respond to a request for comment on his cellphone Friday.
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