|House at 119 Main Street in Mountain Brook, AL|
I do, however, have plenty of clues. Here are a few: (1) Republican political operative Rob Riley and lobbyist Liberty Duke had filed a defamation lawsuit, claiming I had written posts about them that were false and defamatory--even though they never came close to proving their case, and proceedings showed that, as a matter of law, my reporting was neither false nor defamatory; (2) Shelby County officers started showing up on our property (two and three at a time, with multiple vehicles) about 10 days after I had broken a story about U.S. Circuit Judge Bill Pryor and his ties to 1990s gay pornography. (Pryor now is on Donald Trump's list of 11 possible nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court.) (3) Retired Judge Claud Neilson, who is from Demopolis and just happens to be a long-time associate of Birmingham attorney and former state attorney general Bill Baxley, somehow was appointed to hear the Riley/Duke case and granted a preliminary injunction on material that had not (and still has not) been determined at trial, before a jury, to be defamatory. That tramples more than 200 years of First Amendment law, which prohibits such "prior restraints" on free speech in defamation cases.
I probably could list more than a dozen other clues, but for now, let's focus on what might be the most intriguing clue of all. It involves a house at 119 Main Street, in the fashionable Birmingham suburb of Mountain Brook. GOP operative Jessica Medeiros Garrison bought the home a few months before I started writing about her extramarital affair with Attorney General Luther Strange (for whom she served as campaign manager in 2010 and 2014).
About this time, multiple news outlets were reporting on Strange's efforts to prosecute Democrat Lowell Barron, former president of the Alabama Senate, for allegedly providing excessive compensation to a female campaign aide. The charges against Barron sounded exactly like what Strange had done with his female campaign aide, Jessica Garrison--and the prosecution eventually dropped the Barron charges.
Here is where it gets really interesting: On October 22, 2013, I wrote a post with the headline "How did Jessica M. Garrison pay a modest $30,000 for a Mountain Brook house valued at $400,000?" I was arrested the next day and spent five months in jail, becoming the only U.S. journalist to be incarcerated since 2006.
Does that indicate someone found my reporting on the Garrison house transaction to be highly sensitive, enough that they wanted to make sure I could not write anything more about it for a while? That's how I take it--and I had already seen signs that it was a sensitive topic.
I sent an e-mail to Garrison, seeking an interview or comment about the real-estate transaction. Two days later, her attorney sent me a message threatening a lawsuit. Who was her attorney? Bill Baxley, long-time associate of Claud Neilson, the judge who unlawfully had me incarcerated.
Our reporting had shown that, according to public records from her divorce/child custody case, Garrison had the 119 Main Street address at least by May 2012, but the property was not sold at a foreclosure auction until July 12.
Was the house subject to open bidding via "pubic outcry" on the courthouse steps, as required by state law? Doesn't look like it. Was it sold "off the grid," in a rigged fashion, so that Garrison could get a sweetheart deal? Is that one of the advantages of being Luther Strange's mistress, the kind of favor one receives for being a "good girl" and keeping Republican sleaze on the down low? A reasonable person, examining the evidence we have at the moment, might answer, "Yes."
Did Garrison actually pay just $30,000 for a Mountain Brook home with an appraised value of $439,900? Was that the plan, but it changed slightly when I started writing about the transaction--and the boatloads of cash Strange had funneled to Garrison and her companies?
Finding answers to those questions is complicated by the presence of two foreclosure deeds on the house. The first foreclosure deed is dated July 20, 2012, and states--in so many words--that Robert C. and Hilary J. Maxwell had foreclosed on a mortgage with Renasant Bank and "in consideration of . . . $30,000" auctioneer Burt W. Newsome did "grant, bargain, sell, and convey" the described property (Lot 17, Block 8, according to the survey of Crestline Heights) to Jessica Medeiros Garrison.
The plain language seems to state that Jessica Garrison had paid $30,000 to become owner of the property at 119 Main Street in Mountain Brook.
But then a second foreclosure deed appeared almost one year later, dated June 18, 2013. It states that the Maxwells had defaulted on a mortgage with Countrywide Bank, later assigned to M and T Bank. The auctioneer this time was Michael Corvin of Corvin Auctioneering and--surprise, surprise--Jessica Garrison was the "highest" and "best" bidder, at $411,921.68. That brings the total for the two sales to $441,921.68, roughly $2,000 over the appraised value. (Both foreclosure deeds are embedded at the end of this post.)
According to the deed, Corvin did "remise, release, quit claim, and convey" unto Jessica Garrison"all of its right, title, and interest in and to the following described property. (Lot 17, Block 8, Crestline Heights).
Corvin seems to be saying that Jessica Garrison now was owner of the house. But wasn't she already owner of the house, based on proclamations in a foreclosure deed filed about one year earlier?
What was going on here? Why were there two foreclosure deeds?
I don't claim to be an expert on foreclosure law, but this seems to be the answer to the second question: The Maxwells, it appears, took out two mortgages on the property--one on June 27, 2007, for the much higher figure (roughly $400,000) and one on August 6, 2007, for the lower figure (roughly $30,000).
So why was the smaller mortgage handled first in the foreclosure process, with the larger mortgage seemingly ignored until about one year later? Why did the first foreclosure deed indicate Jessica Garrison had full ownership rights for only $30,000--and her child-custody case indicates she knew the house was hers before it ever went up for "public auction"?
Does a timeline of events shine light on these questions? Let's take a look:
July 20, 2012 -- The first foreclosure deed--with Garrison paying $30,000--is filed on the Mountain Brook property.
May 8, 2013 -- I publish the first post that mentions Garrison's address as 119 Main Street in Mountain Brook and Strange's steady flow of cash to companies that Garrison owns.
May 15, 2013 -- I publish a post about the Lowell Barron case, noting that the charges sound almost exactly like transactions between Garrison and Strange.
June 18, 2013 -- Second foreclosure suddenly appears in the public record, with Jessica Garrison producing a winning bid of almost $412,000.
It appears that Jessica Garrison owned the Mountain Brook house free and clear, for the sum of $30,000, until I published her address and wrote about the dubious case Luther Strange was bringing against Lowell Barron.
Was that the reason the second foreclosure deed appeared, bringing the total paid to roughly the appraised value of the house, and making it look like Jessica Garrison didn't receive such a sweetheart deal? If so, who arranged for the second foreclosure deed and who actually paid for the Mountain Brook home? Was it Jessica Garrison or was it someone else?
Was the price of my investigative reporting on the matter to be beaten up inside my own home, doused with pepper spray, and dragged off to jail--thanks to a judge that Bill Baxley, Jessica Garrison's lawyer, possibly hand-picked?
If the answer to that last question is yes, it raises the specter of organized crime, which almost certainly violates the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO).
Are the Mike Hubbard and Robert Bentley cases ugly? For sure. But circumstances surrounding Jessica Garrison's Mountain Brook house might be even uglier.