Monday, January 30, 2023

Longtime Alabama lawyer Donald Watkins says Memphis officers "tortured" Tyre Martin to death, and their life expectancy in prison will be a matter of days

Memphis police officers fatally beat Tyre Nichols
 

A longtime Alabama attorney -- who helped desegregate the Montgomery Police Department and served on all sides of court cases involving police officers -- says the Memphis cops who fatally beat Tyre Nichols were  a "disgrace" to their profession, and their actions amounted to "torture."

Donald V. Watkins called the beating a "senseless murder" and said the cops had no justification, in fact or law, for their actions. Writes Watkins in an opinion piece at his Web site, donaldwatkins.com:

During my long legal career, I have defended police officers against charges of using excessive force, and I have prosecuted a popular police lieutenant for murder.

[Friday night], I watched in horror as five Memphis police officers beat Tyre Nichols to death on three police body-cam videos and one video from a pole-mounted neighborhood security camera. These officers have been fired and are now charged with the kidnapping and murder of Mr. Nichols.

Watkins said the officers showed an appalling lack of respect for Nichols' rights as a human being and for foundational U.S. laws:

The officers who killed Nichols, all of whom are black, did not give a damn about his human rights or constitutional rights.

These officers acted and talked like street thugs in police uniforms, with badges and guns. Throughout the four videos that were aired [Friday] night, no officer on the scene exhibited the professional training that is standard for all sworn police officers in America.

Watkins knows what it's like to represent a black police officer who shows respect for citizens and the law he is sworn to uphold:

On a personal level, I am so disappointed in the five officers who killed Tyre Nichols. In 1978, I represented Sidney Williams, the Montgomery Police officer whose lawsuit opened the doors for black officers to desegregate the ranks of the city's police department. The success we experienced in Sidney's lawsuit was quickly replicated in Tennessee and other cities across the South.

Sidney and the black police officers who came behind him showed their fellow officers how to treat Montgomery's residents with dignity and respect while policing neighborhoods all over the city. Sidney and the hundred or so black officers he personally recruited to the police force during his 25-year tenure as an officer checked misconduct by white police officers on the spot.

The black officers who administered the beatdown of Tyre Nichols are a disgrace to law enforcement, in general, and the legacy of Sidney Williams and all of the brave men and women who fought in federal courts throughout the nation to get black officers on police forces across the country. They have betrayed us.

These five Memphis police officers deserved to be tried for murder, convicted, and sentenced to long prison terms. I have no sympathy for them.

One never knows how a criminal trial will turn out, but the video evidence against the Memphis officers appears to be overwhelming. If convicted and sent to federal or state prison, they likely will not fare well in that environment, Watkins writes:
 

For all practical purposes, their lives are over. There is no prison in the United States where these men can serve their sentences in safety. They would have to be sent to a Swedish prison under a special arrangement with the state of Tennessee and the United States. If they are placed in any state or federal prison in America to serve their sentences, their life expectancy will be reduced to a matter of days.

The city of Memphis is to be congratulated for the way it handled this matter. The five officers were promptly fired and charged with murder. City officials did not try to gaslight the public, as we have witnessed all too often in excessive force cases in America.

Senseless police murders must end. We are so much better than this. May this kind of incident never happen again.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Donald Watkins files criminal RICO complaint against Matrix LLC, Alabama Power, and Southern Company as The Wall Street Journal investigation heats up

Joe Perkins and Mark Crosswhite
 

Longtime Alabama attorney and entrepreneur Donald V. Watkins has filed a criminal complaint against Alabama Power, Southern Company, Matrix LLC, and Matrix founder/owner Joe Perkins, according to a post at Watkins' Web site. In a separate post, Watkins discusses the possibility that Perkins and one of his prominent clients, Alabama Power CEO Mark Crosswhite, will be indicted. Watkins also reveals that The Wall Street Journal is working on a major investigative piece about scandals surrounding Matrix and its clients and provides insights on deferred prosecution agreements that Alabama Power and Southern Company reportedly are seeking,

As for the criminal complaint, it is brought under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).Watkins was the target of a 2018-19 criminal trial, but recent reports present evidence that corporate power brokers and compromised justice officials joined forces to ensure the proceeding was a sham.

At his Web site donaldwatkins.com, Watkins discusses the complaint under the headline "Criminal RICO Complaint Filed Against Alabama Power, Southern Company, Matrix, Perkins:

On January 27, 2023, a criminal complaint was filed with Mr. Kenneth Polite, Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, that alleged a litany of violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act by: (a) Southern Company, Inc., (b) Alabama Power Company, (c) Matrix, LLC, (d) Joseph W. Perkins, Jr., (owner of Matrix), and (e) other RICO participants who worked in concert with them.

The major goals of the alleged racketeering enterprise were to: (a) target, influence, compromise, corrupt, control, and/or destroy individuals and entities that posed a perceived or real threat to Alabama Power’s monopoly in Alabama as an energy producer and provider, (b) perpetuate Alabama Power’s ironclad control of local, state, and federal elected and appointed officials in Alabama, and (c) protect, expand, and solidify its grip on political affairs in the state of Alabama.

The complaint also alleges that the named offenders engaged in criminal antitrust conduct against certain Watkins-owned biomass-to-energy businesses that competed on a commercial scale against biomass-to-energy businesses owned and/or controlled by the Southern Company in the same U.S. markets.

The complaint apparently is not lacking in details:

The complaint was accompanied by a detailed Proffer of Evidence that named the specific offenders and outlined the nature and scope of the RICO and antitrust conduct that adversely impacted the complainants and caused them severe economic harm.

The named complainants are: (a) Donald V. Watkins, Sr., (b) Donald V. Watkins, Jr., (c) Donald V. Watkins, P.C., (d) Watkins-Pencor, LLC, (e) the Donald Watkins Agency, Inc., (f) DNA Centers of Alabama, Inc., and (g) Highland Virtual Suites, LLC, all of which are/were owned by the complainants during the racketeering conspiracy period.

Matrix LLC is at the heart of media and law-enforcement investigations in Florida and Washington, D.C. Watkins reports:

The Watkins complaint was filed two days after NextEra Energy (NEE) and Florida Power & Light (FPL) filed a Form 8-K with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission announcing that “Allegations of violations of law by FPL or NEE have the potential to result in fines, penalties, or other sanctions or effects, as well as cause reputational damage for FPL and NEE, and could hamper FPL’s and NEE’s effectiveness in interacting with governmental authorities.”

The violations of law referenced in this Form 8-K stem from the clandestine “dirty tricks” work Joe Perkins' Matrix, LLC, performed for these Florida companies. Some of this work is described in a December 22, 2022 article I published titled, “Joe Perkins and Matrix in Deep Trouble” and a December 19, 2022 article National Public Radio published titled, “In the Southeast, power company money flows to news sites that attack their critics.”
 
On December 26, 2021, I revealed that Alabama Power had paid Perkins $2.5 million, without invoicing. I also published two of Perkins' secret contracts with Alabama Power, which covered the period from January 1, 2018 to July 31, 2019. Perkins has carried out "dirty tricks" operations for Alabama Power for nearly two decades.
Matrix promptly carried out an act of retaliation against me for publishing the Alabama Power Company contracts.

The Matrix scandal, for now, touches primarily on three states -- Florida, Alabama, and Georgia. But Watkins says the misconduct involving Matrix and Southern Company in Alabama and Georgia is far worse than anything that has been reported in Florida:

The “dirty tricks” scandal that has engulfed NEE, FPL, Perkins, and Matrix in Florida pales in comparison to the scope and depth of “dirty tricks” Perkins and Matrix have performed for Alabama Power and the Southern Company in Alabama and Georgia. The array of people implicated in the Alabama scandal and related criminal probes has been mind-blowing for investigators.

Legal observers who are familiar with the Florida, Georgia, and Alabama criminal investigations expect to see federal indictments in this growing multi-state racketeering scandal in the near future.

Now that a RICO complaint has been filed, how does the case proceed? Watkins provides insights:

The Watkins complainants invoked their rights as RICO and antitrust “crime victims” within the meaning of the Crime Victims’ Rights Act, 18 U.S.C. § 3771, the Victims’ Rights and Restitution Act, 34 U.S.C. § 20141 (“VRRA”), and the Attorney General Guidelines for Victim and Witness Assistance. Under the VRRA, a “crime victim” is a person who has suffered direct physical, emotional, or pecuniary harm as a result of the crimes committed by the named RICO/antitrust offenders.

The complainants have requested that the Department of Justice solicit their views as “crime victims” on major case prosecutorial decisions such as dismissals, plea negotiations, pretrial diversion for individual wrongdoers, and non-prosecution agreements.

On other topics, Watkins reports:

I have confirmed that The Wall Street Journal has been working since December on an in-depth investigative article on Southern Company, Alabama Power, and their longtime business relationship with Perkins and Matrix. This article is expected to be published soon.

On the scope of possible indictments:

Southern Company has not issued a Form 8-K filing yet, but may do so after an internal investigation by the Atlanta-based King & Spalding LLP law firm,  centering on Matrix’s “dirty tricks” work for Southern Company and Alabama Power, is completed.

As is the case with NextEra Energy (NEE) and Florida Power & Light (FPL), I expect to see several top Alabama Power and Southern Company executives indicted, as well.
 
I do not expect that Southern Company CEO Tom Fanning will be indicted. Fanning was a victim of one of Matrix “dirty tricks” schemes that was designed to pressure him into resigning so that Mark Crosswhite could take his place as CEO of Southern Company. Fortunately, this ill-conceived scheme failed.
 
Criminal lawyers in Birmingham are already getting calls from Alabama Power executives who believe they have criminal exposure in this RICO case.

On deferred Prosecution Agreements:

It appears that Southern Company and Alabama Power are seeking what is called a “deferred or non-prosecution agreement” from the U.S. Department of Justice. If granted, these entities will not be prosecuted, but their former executives may well be charged.

Under Title 9-28.000 of the Department’s Justice Manual, this relief may be available to Southern Company and Alabama Power if they take certain actions that aid the Department’s investigation. Generally, these actions include: (a) ousting all persons responsible for the violations of law from the company, (b) conducting an internal investigation, (c) refraining from impeding the Department’s investigation by hiring or paying for lawyers for the wrongdoers, (d) voluntarily disclosing the results of the internal investigation to prosecutors, and (e) making restitution to the crime victims adversely impacted by the criminal conduct disclosed by the federal probe.
 
Matrix is not expected to be offered a deferred or non-prosecution agreement under any circumstance. The company’s “dirty tricks” work has: (a) soiled the reputations of two New York Stock Exchange companies, as well as their wholly-owned affiliates, (b) placed these publicly-traded companies under a multi-state federal investigation at the same time, and (c) may expose these companies to billions of dollars in lost value on the Stock Exchange as the scandal unfolds in the national and international media in the coming weeks.

What might lie ahead?:

We have confirmed that federal investigators possess a treasure trove of incriminating evidence against Joe Perkins and Matrix. A lot of this evidence is contained in handwritten notes authored by Perkins himself.

The scope of the incriminating evidence and the number of parties involved in the “dirty tricks” Perkins/Matrix performed for Alabama Power and Southern Company are breathtaking.

The question is not whether individuals will be indicted in the multi-state Matrix scandal, but how many and who will they be.

Friday, January 27, 2023

Vicious beatings in Memphis and Arkansas, both caught on graphic videos, likely will push America's problem with police brutality back into headlines

Tyre Nichols in a Memphis hospital after police beating.

If you have been feeling a sense of relief that stories about police misconduct, often involving use of deadly or damaging excessive force, have become less prominent on America's new pages than they were a few years back, you might want to brace yourself. That's because today marks the likely beginning of a new era in coverage of police abuse, driven by two cases that already have begun to make headlines this week. Both cases involve brutal beatings that were captured, at least in part, on video, and both victims were males in their late 20s. From there, the facts of the cases diverge, but both involve disturbing images that do not easily leave the mind -- giving the impression that some cops are glorified street thugs, more than "officers of the law."

Those images, starting today, likely will drive wall-to-wall coverage that might even move Donald Trump and Marjorie Taylor Greene off the front pages, at least for a while. One of the beatings might spark explosive news coverage, even civil unrest -- and it could eventually overtake the 2020 police murder of George Floyd as the most widely covered police-related fatality in American history.

That's the case of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man who was beaten to death after a traffic stop in Memphis, TN, earlier this month. Video of the beating is expected to be released this afternoon (about 6 p.m., central time), prompting headlines like this: "Memphis braces for release of video footage in Tyre Nichols beating." 

All five officers involved in the Nichols death have been fired and charged with second-degree murder. Much remains unknown about how a traffic stop turned deadly, but The Hill provides a summary of what is known at this point:

The city of Memphis, Tenn., is bracing for potential civil unrest with the release of video footage of the beating of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man who died after a traffic stop earlier this month.

On Thursday, five former Memphis Police officers involved in the incident were charged with second-degree murder and other offenses. All five men, who are all Black, were fired from the department. Video footage is expected to be released publicly Friday.

Release of the Nichols video comes on the heels of reports this week about a similar episode in the tiny hamlet of Mulberry, AR (pop. 1,655), which is on the northwest edge of the state, near Fort Smith.

One incident unfolded in an urban environment, while the other happened in a distinctly rural locale. All of those involved in the Memphis beating were Black, while all those involved in Mulberry were White. The biggest difference is that the Memphis case led to a fatality, while the Mulberry victim lived. Both produced videos revealing cop behavior that might be described as "egregious," even "sickening." From  a report this week at CBS News about the Arkansas beating of 27-year-old Randal Worcester::

        Two former Arkansas sheriff deputies are being charged with federal civil            rights offenses for allegedly using excessive force during a police arrest of a         man at a gas station in Mulberry, Arkansas, the Justice Department                        announced Wednesday.

A grand jury returned a two-count indictment against Crawford County, Arkansas, Sheriff's Deputies Levi White and Zackary King, alleging that White repeatedly hit 27-year-old Randal Worcester of Goose Creek, South Carolina, during the Aug. 21, 2022, incident and King hit Worcester multiple times while he was lying on the ground. 

        "Randal is very happy," his attorney Rachel Bussett told CBS News. "He is         grateful to see that the Department of Justice is pursuing charges against the         officers."

A video, taken by a bystander, has provided critical evidence, although police sources say other video -- unseen, so far, by the public -- provides additional evidence that is favorable to the officers. From CBS News. (A video of the incident can be viewed by clicking this link.):

       Video of the arrest shows three officers repeatedly striking Worcester, and          slamming his head into the pavement. One officer repeatedly strikes                     Worcester with a closed fist while another knees him several times in the             lower body.

      The officers were responding to a report of a man making threats outside a           Kountry Xpress gas station in the small town of Mulberry, about 140 miles           northwest of Little Rock, near the border with Oklahoma, authorities said. In        a federal civil rights lawsuit filed in August, Worcester said he was riding his        bicycle back to his home in Goose Greek, South Carolina, according to court        documents — more than 900 miles away. Originally from Oklahoma,                  Worcester is temporarily living in South Carolina as he is homeless and              struggles with mental health issues, said his attorney. He was taking a bicycle       trip but it is not clear how he arrived in Arkansas, said his attorney.

     He had stopped and asked the gas station attendant for water, and the                    attendant became angry and called the police, court documents said.

     Worcester had allegedly made "terroristic threats" against a gas station                 employee, police said, and threatened to cut off the employee's face. He then      left and biked around seven miles before police caught him, police said.

What happened next? That remains unclear:

Worcester surrendered a knife and then "football tackled" one of the deputies and punched him in the back of the head, police said. None of the officers were wearing body cameras.

If convicted of the excessive force charges, White and King face up to 10 years in prison.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Florida Power & Light chief Eric Silagy follows Alabama Power's Mark Crosswhite out the door in the wake of scandals tied to Matrix LLC of Montgomery

Eric Silagy, of Florida Power & Light (AP)
 

The head of Florida's main electric company is stepping down in the wake of reports about the firm's ties to the Matrix LLC consulting firm of Montgomery, AL, according to a report from Associated Press (AP) and The Washington Post. The report comes roughly two months after Alabama Power CEO Mark Crosswhite, who has longstanding ties to Matrix, announced he would retire, effective at the end of December 2022. That announcement came after a series of scandals -- many tied to Matrix, Birmingham's Balch & Bingham law firm, or related entities -- caused a cloud to form over Crosswhite's tenure.

The report on Florida Power & Light (FPL) and CEO Eric Silagy reveals a number of parallels with events at Alabama Power. From the AP report by Terry Spencer:

The leader of Florida’s primary electric company, which has been embroiled in controversy over allegations that it backed sham election candidates and spied on a journalist, will be stepping down next month, it was announced this week.

Florida Power & Light’s parent company, NextEra Energy, announced that CEO Eric Silagy will step down Feb. 15 and then retire in May after assisting his successor, Armando Pimentel, through the transition. Pimentel, a top executive at NextEra, is taking over a company that serves about 5 million Florida homes and businesses, or about half the state. . . . 

“It has been an honor and privilege to lead the FPL team for more than a decade,  and I couldn’t be more proud of the accomplishments we have delivered to our customers and the state of Florida,” he said in a statement. There is no indication in the statement he was stepping down because of the allegations.

But FPL has been under scrutiny since last year after the Orlando Sentinel and the Florida Times-Union were leaked documents, texts, and emails from a political consulting firm the company hired. The newspapers charged that the consulting company, Matrix LLC, went after politicians FPL opposed and secretly took over a Florida political news website and used it to give the company favorable coverage. It also spied on Times-Union columnist Nate Monroe, who had written critically of the company’s bid to buy Jacksonville’s municipal electric company.

How did FPL, and Matrix, alter Florida's political landscape to attack candidates who met with disfavor from the power company? Spencer provides an example:

In one case, Democratic State Sen. José Javier Rodríguez angered FPL by proposing a bill that would have eaten into its profits.

In a 2019 email chain obtained by the Sentinel, Silagy tells two of his vice presidents, “I want you to make (Rodriguez’s) life a living hell.” The vice presidents forwarded the email to Matrix. In the 2020 election, Matrix spent heavily supporting the independent candidacy of a Rodriguez opponent with the same last name. He siphoned votes away as Rodriguez lost his reelection bid. The opponent, who had never shown any political interest, later admitted he was bribed to run.

Other similar mystery candidates popped up elsewhere in the state to run against FPL critics, all getting support from Matrix. While others involved in those campaigns have been charged with election-related crimes, no one from FPL or Matrix has been.

Silagy told the Sentinel he used a “poor choice of words” in his email, but denied that he or the company ever directed Matrix to do anything illegal. Matrix blamed a former CEO and former employees who it said acted without ownership’s knowledge.

NextEra Energy, FPL's parent company, conducted an internal investigation that found FPL should now be in the clear, reports Spencer:

In a Securities and Exchange Commission filing Wednesday, NextEra said its investigation into Sentinel and Times-Union’s allegations “is substantially complete” and “based on information in our possession, we believe that FPL would not be found liable for any of the Florida campaign finance law violations.” It also says it believes FPL will be cleared of federal elections code violations.

Jacksonville journalist Nate Monroe, having been a Matrix target, likely would not paint such a rosy picture:

In Monroe’s file, there were 72 pages of information on him and his family — including a surreptitious photo of him and his wife walking their dog near their home.

A Matrix spy even appeared to follow him to a wedding hundreds of miles away. In a text to an FPL executive, the spy showed glee when Monroe tweeted that he was getting drunk at the reception (Monroe has said he was being “facetious”). The spy later that night used a sad-faced emoji when he reported back to the executive that Monroe took an Uber to his hotel instead of driving. The former Matrix CEO complained to FPL that Monroe’s personal life is “boring.”

“I believe it is fair to detect an undercurrent of hostility in these records,” Monroe wrote in a column.

Internal Matrix documents were distributed to a number of news outlets when company founder Joe Perkins and former CEO Jeff Pitts engaged in a bitter lawsuit that crossed state lines, from Florida into Alabama. The lawsuit ultimately settled, but the Matrix documents apparently remain in the possession of several journalists.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Why is law enforcement slow to act on identity-theft case involving stolen credit card belonging to attorney Burt Newsome and break in of his wife's vehicle?

 

The Newsome family at Christmas 2022

When someone, in August 2018, sent various clothing items and five sets of luggage to the home of Birmingham attorney Burt Newsome, our reporting focused on the perverse-threat aspect of the story. The  luggage appeared to be for each child in the family, along with one for their mother -- Regina Gauliulina Newsome. Was the message that the children and their mother should prepare for an extended trip, a "permanent vacation," you might say? Was it that they needed to leave because something unpleasant, such as a head-on vehicle crash that almost proved to be fatal, was going to happen to the family's husband and father?

While the exact message remains unclear, it clearly was not a form of "season's greetings." In fact, it appeared to be part of an orchestrated terror campaign that had been directed at the family, in various forms,  since Burt Newsome engaged in courtroom battles with powerful corporate, legal, and political entities in the state -- Alabama Power, Southern Company, Balch & Bingham, Drummond Company, and Matrix LLC. Of particular note is this: Burt Newsome became the attorney for former Drummond executive David Roberson, in a $75-million lawsuit for breach of contract, fraudulent misrepresentation., and concealment. In essence, the complaint claims various entities combined to unlawfully make Roberson the "fall guy" in the North Birmingham criminal trial. When Newsome refused to drop the case or otherwise cave in, it apparently drew the ire of someone who wanted the matter to go away.

Another aspect of the luggage story -- one that involves an apparent crime -- has been mostly overlooked in our reporting, and now seems to be a good time to correct that.

The luggage and other items sent to the Newsome home apparently were purchased with Burt Newsome's stolen credit card. How did the card get into the wrong hands? That happened when someone broke into Regina Newsome's vehicle, via a smash-and grab operation, while it was parked at a Vestavia Hills fitness center. Much was percolating behind the scenes when the theft occurred, as we noted in an August 2018 post:

Regina Galiulina Newsome apparently was targeted while at Lifetime Fitness for a tennis lesson, according to her Facebook page. The incident, on July 30, came nine days after former Balch & Bingham partner Joel Gilbert was convicted of bribery in the North Birmingham Superfund scandal. It also came after reports of a possible RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) lawsuit related to Balch's efforts to essentially steal Burt Newsome's lucrative collections practice and ruin his law business.

Was Regina Newsome targeted in an effort to intimidate her husband into forgoing a RICO lawsuit that could expose some prominent political figures -- including former U.S. Senators Jeff Sessions (now Trump attorney general) and Luther Strange, plus Strange's one-time . . . campaign manager, Jessica Medeiros Garrison, . . . who [was] a lawyer at Balch & Bingham at the time?

Just yesterday, we learned from excellent reporting at Mother Jones, that Sessions and his office coordinated their attacks on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the Superfund case, working more closely with Balch than was previously known. Does that mean Sessions, too, could be connected to the intimidation campaign against Burt Newsome and his wife? That certainly is a reasonable question to ask. By the way, Jessica Medeiros Garrison used to work for Jeff Sessions, whose top two political donors long have been Alabama Power and Balch & Bingham. Could Garrison have been involved with, or have knowledge of, the intimidation campaign against the Newsome family?

Here is a key, overlooked point for now: Whoever made off with Burt Newsome's credit card committed a crime -- and local law enforcement seemingly has shown little interest in solving it. In an age when security cameras and cell phones seem to be everywhere, that is a particularly brazen act -- a crime with a high probability for being solved. But maybe the perpetrator knew he was not going to get caught.

The incident report, which can be seen at the end of this post, lists the crime as identity theft, a violation of Code of Alabama 13A-8-192. The offense also appears to match illegal possession or fraudulent use of a credit card under Code of Alabama 13A-9-14. The former is a Class C felony, and the latter is a Class B felony. Either way, it's a serious offense, and the public should be concerned that law enforcement does not seem to be taking it seriously. From the incident report's narrative:

On this date, 8/7/18, Regina came to the Sheriff's Office to report an incident of identity theft. Regina said that on 7/27/18, an order was placed via the shopping application GILT. The order was placed under Regina's login information on her account. The order contained miscellaneous children's clothing for boys and girls, as well as luggage and a tennis skirt for an adult female. The order total was $1,164.23 and was charged on a secondary form of payment, her husband's personal credit card, not her preferred form of payment. Regina was unaware of the order, and her husband was unaware of the charge. Regina's vehicle was broken into while she was at a private tennis lesson on 7/30/18. . . . Regina said her vehicle was the only one broken into, according to Vestavia Hills Police. Regina's husband is an attorney, who is involved in a number of high-profile corruption cases, and she seems to think this might have something to do with one of those since there was no men's clothing and no men's luggage in the order.


Friday, January 20, 2023

Why was a state trooper present so quickly for vehicle crash that nearly killed lawyer Burt Newsome, and why does incident report differ with evidence at the scene?

Image No. 1 -- see notes at end of post.

A state trooper's report on a vehicle crash, which has been the subject of multiple posts here at Legal Schnauzer, is inaccurate, according to a party who was severely injured in the incident.

Attorney Burt Newsome, in fact, says the mere presence of a state trooper raises questions about how the crash unfolded and how it was investigated. Further, Newsome says, the trooper's report differs in numerous respects from what Newsome saw with his own eyes as the crash unfolded in September 2020.

Image No. 2
Newsome wound up with a severely broken right leg, and photos taken at the scene indicate he likely was very close to being fatally injured. In the general time frame, Newsome was involved in high- stakes litigation with several corporate and legal powerhouses in the state -- including Alabama Power, Southern Company, Drummond Company, Balch & Bingham, and Matrix LLC.

Perhaps of most note, Newsome was the attorney for former Drummond executive David Roberson in a $75-million lawsuit against Drummond and Balch & Bingham for breach of contract and fraudulent misrepresentation. Did someone see attempted murder as the only way out of a courtroom jam -- likely created by a plaintiff [Roberson] with a strong case, and an attorney who refused to be scared away?

Image No. 3
Newsome was driving a Volkswagen Jetta and was hit by a man driving a Ford Explorer. Based on photos taken at the scene, it is remarkable that Newsome survived.

Was Newsome targeted for the vehicle crash because he refused to cave in to a number of intimidation tactics (see here and here) and drop the case or settle it on bad terms for his client?

The images with this post tend to suggest that the state trooper produced an incident report that appears to be off target.

First, let's consider the trooper's narrative on the incident report.

* It says vehicle No. 1 (the green Ford Explorer) was traveling westbound on Shelby County 280, making a left turn on County Road 11. But a photo taken moments after the crash shows the Explorer's wheels turned sharply right. That's a strange way to make a left-hand turn.

* According to the narrative, Driver No. 1 said, as he was trying to turn left, a vehicle in front of him turned right onto County Road 11, obscuring his view. But a diagram and photos show it is impossible to turn right going west at that intersection because there is no roadway to turn onto; County Road 11 dead ends at that intersection.

* The narrative states that Driver No. 1, as he was turning left, did not see vehicle No. 2 (Newsome's Volkswagen Jetta), and the Jetta struck him in the intersection. Photos taken moments after the crash show the intersection was clear, and the crash did not happen in that area.

* The narrative says Driver No. 2 (Newsome) saw the Explorer making a left-hand turn and tried to swerve left to avoid him. But the Explorer swerved right, hitting Newsome virtually head-on. Photos from the scene are consistent with Newsome's version of the crash.

All of this raises many disturbing questions, so let's start with this one: Why was it odd for a state trooper to be on the scene? Newsome explains:

Shelby County typically does not use state troopers to write up accident reports that occur within its jurisdiction, unless it is a fatality or a major crash with life-threatening injuries.

An employee of Newsome's law office immediately began taking photos at the crash scene, and Newsome says those photos tell a very different story from what the trooper's diagrams show:

Image No. 4

It is clear in the photo that [name deleted] took right after the crash that, after the Explorer started to turn left on County Road 11, he gunned it straight towards me - and then when I attempted to veer LEFT he turned RIGHT into me and struck the right side of the vehicle. If I had not been able to slightly veer left avoiding a head-on collision, he would have killed me. The photo clearly shows the Explorer turning RIGHT, trying to hit me head on.

But, look at the police report.  He wrote up that the vehicle was turning left on County Road 11, and that I was going straight, and the drawing shows the Explorer turning right instead of turning LEFT like it truly was -- and it shows the Explorer striking me on the left side and not the RIGHT. Plus, after he straightened up and gunned it at me - he had gone well past the turn onto CR 11. The drawing is patently false. 

Was the trooper happy about the Newsome employee's presence, with a camera? No, says Newsome:

The trooper ordered [name deleted] to quit taking pictures at the scene. He was screaming at her to stop taking pictures.

Just a few of many troubling questions from this incident: 

(1) Did someone pay to have Burt Newsome killed?

(2) Why did law enforcement mostly ignore the crash and produce an incident report that appears to be flawed?

(3) Can the trooper's report be explained by honest mistakes? 

(4) Was Newsome targeted because of the $75-million Roberson lawsuit?

(5) What does this say about the "justice system" in the Birmingham area?

(6) Does an attorney put his life on the line when he brings a civil case against powerful entities in Alabama -- and treats his client's claims with seriousness? 


Notes on images

* Image No. 1 -- (top) diagram from the trooper's report; (bottom) view from the side, just after impact, with the Explorer's wheels turned sharply right.

* Image No. 2 -- View of the impact from the other side of what is shown in Image No. 1. Again, the Explorer's front wheels can be seen turned right.

* Image No. 3 --  View of an empty intersection, post crash, showing the incident report incorrectly had the crash happening in that intersection. Newsome's vehicle actually was hit outside the intersection, past the turn to County Road 11.

* Image No. 4 -- A photo illustration, from above, of the crash scene at impact.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Birmingham Times and al.com appear to have ditched their journalism bona fides to hitch a ride on Alabama Power's gravy train, serving a diet of "Happy News"


A foundation affiliated with Alabama Power acquired the black-owned Birmingham Times in 2016, and Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin has joined the alliance by funneling more than $1.8 million to the news site. That suggests Alabama Power and the city jointly control the content of an editorial voice that is important enough to have been around for almost 60 years. Speaking of editorial voices, evidence suggests al.com -- the state's largest news operation -- also has jumped on the Alabama Power gravy train. And all of this raises these questions: Has the mainstream media (MSM) thoroughly sold out to corporate and governmental interests, whose editorial policy consists of producing little more than "Happy News"? Where does the serious news consumer turn for actual journalism in Alabama?

K.B. Forbes. of the banbalch.com blog and the CDLU public charity and advocacy group, addresses those issues and more in a post titled "Birmingham Mayor Funnels Whopping $1.8 Million to Birmingham Times, Another Alabama Power Funded, Compromised, and Slanted News Site." Here is the most sobering question of all: If Alabama Power and its allies already control the judiciary, as we showed in recent posts (see here and here), what does it mean for a democratic Alabama if they come to control the "free press," as well? Writes Forbes:

Investigative and independent mainstream journalism is dead in Alabama. Sadly, Southern Company’s criminal enterprise holds the purse and keys.

In December, National Public Radio published an article titled, “In the Southeast, power company money flows to news sites that attack their critics.” 

The article highlighted how Alabama Power funneled money to Alabama Political Reporter (APR) and Yellowhammer News, and in turn, received exclusively positive coverage while fiercely attacking Alabama Power’s critics.

The NPR report confirms the anonymously sent financial documents we received and what we suspected when APR and brain amputee Josh Moon attacked and smeared the CDLU in 2020.

Now we have uncovered a new development.

In addition to funding news sites that attack their critics, an affiliate of Alabama Power, the Alabama Power Foundation, funded the acquisition of a black-owned news site in Birmingham, the Birmingham Times.

What was the roundabout process that brought the Times under the auspices of Alabama Power? Forbes describes it:

In 2016, James Lewis sold the newspaper to The Foundation for Progress in Journalism (FPJ), a not-for-profit organization. The Foundation was incorporated on February 20, 2013, with no reported donations that year.  

In 2014, the Foundation for Progress in Journalism received $35,000 from the Alabama Power Foundation, its sole donor. In 2015, the Alabama Power Foundation contributed another $100,000 to the Foundation for Progress in Journalism, which was 100% of its income.  In 2016, the Alabama Power Foundation contributed another $50,000 to the Foundation for Progress in Journalism, which used its cash on hand to buy the Birmingham Times

And guess who incorporated the foundation?

Alabama Power’s sister-wife Balch & Bingham.

On August 19, 2020, the Foundation for Progress in Journalism changed its name to the Bronze Valley Foundation.  The registered agent’s address is 600 18th Street North, Birmingham, Alabama, the same address for Alabama Power Company.

The Bronze Valley Foundation is associated directly with the Bronze Valley Corp. which was formed in Alabama as a 501(c)(4) non-profit corporation in 2015.  Its address is the same as Alabama Power Company’s.  The registered agent is J. Houston Smith, III Alabama Power Vice President of Government Affairs and former Balch & Bingham partner.

Bronze Valley Corp. was originally incorporated under the name “Elevate Alabama, Inc.” The name was changed to Bronze Valley Corp. on November 28, 2017, which was shortly after Randall Woodfin was sworn-in to his first term as Mayor of Birmingham.

The current board of directors listed on Bronze Valley Corp. include Jeff Peoples, the new Chairman and CEO of Alabama Power, and Houston Smith.

Bronze Valley Corp. acknowledges in its Impact Report for 2018 to 2020 that it receives principal financial support from Alabama Power Company, the Alabama Power Foundation, Regions Bank, and the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

Whew, that is quite a long and winding road. And we haven't even addressed the City of Birmingham's place long the trail. K.B. Forbes fills us in:

On August 20, 2020, the City of Birmingham withdrew $1,146,377.76 from a money market account at BBVA Compass Bank.  Mayor Randall Woodfin used this money to pay a “batch” of Birmingham Times invoices for “Legal Advertising.” The payment was coded as a “Nondepartmental” expenditure.

This $1,146,377.76 payment came out of the city’s $412.8 million operating budget for 2020-2021.  As of December 16, 2022, Woodfin has quietly funneled $1,815,170.84 to the Birmingham Times during his tenure as Mayor of Birmingham.

A breakdown of the city payments to the Birmingham Times Media Group and affiliated entities is available in the city’s Open Checkbook under the “Transactions Report” portal when the vendor name Birmingham Times Media Group is entered.

Included in Mayor Woodfin’s $1,815,170.84 payments to the Birmingham Times entities is a $32,500.00 recurring payment for “Professional Fees,” an amount that doubled from the $16,250 recurring payments on April 26, 2021.  

During his tenure as mayor, Woodfin has paid the Birmingham Times entities $228,105.00 in “Professional Fees,” alone.

A search of the Birmingham Times website (as of December 28, 2022) reveals that no classified legal advertisements have appeared on the newspaper’s website since January 12, 2017.

While the Birmingham Times has published a print edition during Woodfin’s tenure as mayor, we have been unable to verify or quantify the volume of “Legal Advertising” the city has placed in the Birmingham Times printed edition during this five-year period.

According to Gaebler.com, the estimated minimum rate for ads in the Birmingham Times is $23. Gaeber notes that “advertising rate estimates are typically for a column inch of black and white advertising space.  Seasonal factors should also be considered.”

Prior to Woodfin becoming mayor, the Birmingham Times received about $75,000 a year from the city for the placement of legal ads.

As for the term "Happy News," we are not making up that one; it seems to be an editorial theme at the Birmingham Times of 2023, writes Forbes:

After the change in ownership at the Birmingham Times in 2016, the newspaper hired a seasoned team of executives and reporters, improved its design, enhanced its online presence, and published a steady stream of “Happy News” for its targeted readership.  

“Happy News” features positive stories about community events and uplifting profiles of non-controversial people.

“Happy News” does not include hard-hitting, investigative reporting that exposes known polluters in Alabama; spotlights public corruption within local, state or federal government; or shows the need for transparency and accountability in government operations and campaign financing laws.  

Because the Birmingham Times has received $1,815,170.84 from the City of Birmingham during Woodfin’s term in office (through December 31, 2022), “Happy News” does not include any criticism of the Woodfin administration on any issue.

Finally, “Happy News” does not include any kind of negative media coverage of Alabama Power, Southern Company, the North Birmingham Bribery Scandal, or Alabama Power’s networking business partners and political allies.

The Birmingham Times is not required to publicly disclose the names of the individuals and/or entities that have financially benefited from the $1,815,170.84 Mayor Woodfin funneled to Birmingham Times entities between the time he assumed office in 2017 and the end of 2022.

Neither the Foundation for Progress in Journalism, nor the Bronze Valley Foundation, has disclosed this information, either.

How does al.com enter the picture? Here's how, Forbes reports, and it involves collaboration on a subject of the utmost seriousness:

One of the board members of the Bronze Valley Foundation is Bob Blalock, a public relations spin doctor at Alabama Power Company. Prior to joining Alabama Power, Blalock was a reporter and editorial page editor at The Birmingham News.  He is a specialist in molding public opinion on controversial issues.

Beginning on September 4, 2022, the Birmingham Times Media Group and AL.com started collaborating on a series of articles for publication in the Birmingham Times that focus on the sky-high homicide rates in the city.  The articles soft peddled the severity of the violent crime in the city and portrayed Woodfin in the best light possible.

AL.com is Alabama’s largest mainstream new media organization. It operates the Huntsville Times, Birmingham News, and Mobile Press Register.

Under the collaboration arrangement, AL.com produced content that was published in the Birmingham Times, as written by Al.com employees John Archibald, Amy Yurkanin, Greg Garrison, Carol Robinson, Ryan Michaels, and Roy Johnson.

Behind the scenes, the money wheel keeps spinning, helping to churn out high-quality "Happy News":

Shortly before this collaboration began, Woodfin’s recurring payments to Birmingham Times entities for “Professional Fees” increased from $16,250 to $32,500 for each payment. It is not known what portion of this increase in fees, if any, was funneled to AL.com under the collaboration arrangement.

What is known, however, is the fact that AL.com aligned with the Birmingham Times in showering Woodfin with consistent and favorable news coverage, at taxpayers’ expense.  

It is also known that both the Woodfin administration and executives at the Birmingham Times appear to have taken extreme measures to conceal the flow of money that is reported in this post.

Neither the Birmingham Times, nor AL.com, has publicly disclosed their transformation from an independent news reporting role to paid standard bearers for Woodfin’s “marketing and promotions” program funded by Alabama Power.

Mayor Woodfin has never publicly disclosed the fact that taxpayer dollars have been funneled through the Birmingham Times entities to a financially struggling AL.com, which has turned a blind eye to questionable financial practices at City Hall, and the alleged corruption tied to Southern Company’s criminal enterprise and their hired guns at Alabama Power, Balch & Bingham, and Matrix.

Shameful!

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

As Southern Company scandal deepens, attention turns to Alabama's rotting "justice system," with major news outlets on a trail of Southern-fried corruption

 

What once was a story of alleged corporate malfeasance involving Alabama Power, Southern Company, and related entities is evolving into a story about Alabama's dysfunctional "justice apparatus." Our post on Monday (1/16/23), focusing on the criminal case against prominent black attorney and businessman Donald Watkins, showed the state's decaying judicial and law-enforcement systems are so broken they can produce outcomes that are tainted, even rigged. Is that a sign that victims of the Alabama Power saga stand little chance of achieving justice -- given Alabama courthouses (both federal and state) often are the places where fairness and the rule of law go to die?

The answer to that question might prove to be yes. But as we also reported on Monday, multiple sources state that national and international news outlets are investigating apparent corruption tied to Alabama's corporate titans. When those stories hit the streets, it might give rogue judges and prosecutors little place to hide -- suggesting that all hope might not be lost for victims.

How did we get to this point? K.B. Forbes, CEO of the CDLU public charity and advocacy group, has used his organization's blog, banbalch.com, to lead the way in exposing dubious actions that often center around the Matrix LLC consulting firm of Montgomery and Birmingham's Balch & Bingham law firm. It's a tale that Alabama's mainstream media (MSM) seems reluctant to touch, but Forbes has not hesitated to dive into the muck. His findings have been consistently distressing, even shocking. And in a post today titled "Tangled: Southern Company’s Criminal Enterprise, Law Enforcement Stooges, Compromised Judges, Paid-Off Media, and the Miscarriage of Justice, he reports that the whole sordid mess started because of -- surprise, surprise -- money:

Southern Company allowed their most profitable subsidiary Alabama Power to run free, like outlaws in the Wild West.

Why? Because Alabama Power’s excessive profits helped pay for the billion-dollar cost overruns at two Southern Company boondoggles: The Vogtle Nuclear Power Plant in Georgia and the Kemper Plant in Mississippi.

Forbes then turns to possible avenues for victims to seek justice:

Ex-Alabama Power CEO Mark A. Crosswhite appears to have run a criminal enterprise that gives multiple victims of the misconduct standing to sue Southern Company with civil RICO lawsuits.

Civil RICO lawsuits against Southern Company, Matrix, Balch & Bingham, and others offer plaintiffs a solution to the rigged and corrupt system of justice and law enforcement in Alabama.

The acts carried out by Alabama Power, Balch, Matrix and others associated to the criminal enterprise are actionable. And the civil RICO statute provides triple damages to victims.

Now with Monday’s explosive post showing Southern Company’s law enforcement stooge and disgraced ex-U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town authorized the subpoena of Alabama Media Group to find out the identity of an innocent, online commentator, the tangled web of law enforcement stooges, compromised judges, and paid-off media demonstrate a horrific enterprise engaged in acts of injustice.

While Forbes focuses on RICO as a possible civil remedy for victims of corruption, he also provides an example of how Alabama "crime fighters" can be incompetent, compromised or both. For this, we turn to the case of Shelby County attorney Burt Newsome, who has been the victim of a mysterious head-on vehicle crash that nearly killed him, plus a case of brazen identity theft -- not to mention Balch's apparent efforts to ruin a sizeable chuck of his banking practice, and the peculiar actions of a state judge who shows signs of being compromised. Writes Forbes:

When the Southern Company’s criminal enterprise sent two sets of outfits and travel bags to Newsome’s wife and each of his four children as a threatening message, local law enforcement had the audacity to blame his young twins who couldn’t read of ordering the items, picking correct clothing sizes, and inputting a stolen credit card number and home address on a website.

Fraudulently using a stolen credit card is a Class C Felony in Alabama. Why in God’s name did local Shelby County Sheriff Deputies ignore this crime and dismiss it as an act of his two young children?

Some of this might be too bizarre to grasp in one setting, so we will summarize the fundamental parts: Someone stole Burt Newsome's credit-card out of his wife's vehicle and used the card to charge items that were sent to the home to terrorize Newsome's family.

Did law enforcement take this seriously? Nope. Neither the Shelby County Sheriff's Office nor the U.S. Attorney's Office have taken any apparent meaningful action.

To top it off, Southern Company has been less-than-forthcoming about the Newsome case, writes Forbes;

In January of 2018, Jim Kerr, the Chief Compliance Officer and General Counsel at Southern Company told us unequivocally that Southern Company/Alabama Power was not involved in the Newsome Conspiracy Case.

But that was untrue, a lie.

A year later we uncovered that the staged arrest of Newsome in 2013 was done by the cop-son of a retired Alabama Power executive.

The anonymous documents we received in November show that Alabama Power paid to have the Newsome family terrorized, paid to tar and feather Newsome falsely as a rapist, and, to add a cherry on top of this cluster of injustice, paid-off the media to attack Newsome.

Southern Company’s paid-off media, the discredited Alabama Political Reporter, wrote a long-winded article in 2021 attacking the merits of the Newsome Conspiracy Case while defending Alabama Power and making disgraced ex-CEO Mark A. Crosswhite sound like a poor victim of this blog. (Cry us a polluted river!) . . .

Alabama Power paid Alabama Political Reporter at least $120,000 a year according to documents we received anonymously.

In 2018, Kerr may have looked the other way and let Alabama Power act like outlaws. Or maybe Kerr was lied to by subordinates.

All that changed in 2022, when news report revealed that Alabama Power spied on Southern Company Chairman and CEO Tom Fanning and his then-girlfriend in 2017.

The outlaws had shot themselves in the foot.

While Southern Company is cleaning house and restructuring, the corrupt state of affairs and infrastructure in Alabama remains.

Donald V. Watkins, the Newsome Family, the Forbes Family, the CDLU, GASP, and others have one remedy to clean up this Alabama mess and detangle the corruption: a federal civil RICO lawsuit.