|House at 212 Dexter Avenue in Mountain Brook|
Is this a sign that the Garrison/Strange story is getting more and more like the scandal engulfing Gov. Robert Bentley and former advisor Rebekah Caldwell Mason? Does it mean that women who engage in extracurricular activities with powerful Republicans can expect to receive favors, which come in a variety of forms?
We're not sure about that, but something seems to be going right with Jessica Garrison's personal balance sheet these days. The $835,000 she paid for her new Mountain Brook home is almost twice what Garrison paid for her first Mountain Brook house, at 119 Main Street, in 2012. And it comes as Garrison appears to be pulling back from some of her professional activities.
Work less and buy a house that's worth almost twice what your old one was worth? Must be a nice trick, if you can pull it off.
Jessica Garrison, it seems, can pull off most anything when it comes to real estate in the highly desirable "tiny kingdom" of Mountain Brook. A foreclosure deed from sale of the first house showed that Garrison issued a "high bid" of $30,000--for a house appraised at almost $440,000.
Roughly a year later, after I began reporting about the curious deal and large sums of money that Strange was funneling to Garrison's political-consulting companies, a second foreclosure deed appeared. It showed Garrison making a high bid of $411,922, bringing the total to slightly more than the home's appraised value.
Did media attention, driven partly by Strange's dubious prosecution of Democrat and former Senate President Lowell Barron, cause someone to reconfigure what appeared to be a sweetheart house deal for Garrison? The answer is not clear at the moment, but we know it seems to be a sensitive subject; I was arrested one day after writing about the transaction on October 22, 2013.
Now, we have a second Mountain Brook house deal for Garrison--and it, too, emits a peculiar odor.
Garrison seems to have a knack for rubbing shoulders with corporate types and winding up with houses that keep her safely ensconced in Mountain Brook--often with a tidy profit for Garrison's nest egg.
In summer 2015, Garrison sold her first Mountain Brook home to ServisFirst Bank executive Ray B. Petty, who worked 35 years for SouthTrust/Wachovia, eventually becoming a regional president and CEO of Wachovia Mortgage. You might think a banking veteran like Petty would be a rugged negotiator on a house deal. But public records show he paid $550,000, which left Garrison with a profit of almost $140,000. Not bad for a house she owned for barely three years.
Garrison's new digs are at 212 Dexter Avenue, also in the Crestline Heights section of Mountain Brook--maybe a 9-iron or so from her previous residence. Why is it so much more expensive than the Main Street house? That's hard to figure, since it has only about 300 more square feet of living space. Property records show that the Dexter home has undergone more than $226,000 of improvements since 2011. Also, the Main Street house faces the fairly busy Euclid Avenue, so the Dexter location probably is quieter. These things matter, a lot, in the "Tiny Kingdom."
Did connections--political, corporate, or both--play a role in Garrison buying the house? Well, Garrison bought the house from Howard R. and Stacey Torch. Howard Torch is an advertising manager for Alabama Power and Southern Company in Birmingham.
Garrison is an attorney and serves in an "of counsel" role at Balch and Bingham. That outfit just happens to be known as THE Alabama Power firm in Birmingham. Hmmm . . .
Speaking of Garrison's professional life, it seems to be shrinking. The "of counsel" job at Balch and Bingham long has appeared mostly ceremonial, with Garrison landing there after she had to give up a job with Strange's office in Montgomery because a court ruling in a divorce/child custody case forced her to live within 60 miles of her ex husband's residence in Tuscaloosa.
Her primary positions seemed to be with the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA) and the affiliated Rule of Law Defense Fund (RLDF). Garrison's current LinkedIn page shows she left those positions in January 2016. She lists her main roles now with Balch and Bingham and MDM27, the political-consulting company that received mucho Luther Strange campaign dollars.
(By the way, a quick check of campaign-finance records shows U.S. Rep Gary Palmer (R-AL) has spent at least $84,000 or so with MDM27 and Jessica Garrison.)
This new chapter in the Garrison/Strange story can't help but remind an attentive observer of the Bentley/Mason scandal. How? Consider this:
* When Jessica Garrison needed a job within 60 miles of Tuscaloosa, she found one at Balch and Bingham, THE Alabama Power law firm. When Garrison was in the market for a new house, she found one that had been owned by an advertising manager at . . . Alabama Power. One of the major contributors to ACEGOV, the nonprofit that attorney Donald Watkins has called a slush fund for paying Rebekah Caldwell Mason. is Alabama Power. One of ACEGOV's board members is R.B. Walker, assistant to the executive vice president at . . . Alabama Power.
* Could the Garrison and Mason stories intersect via a shadowy organization known as PACE (Partnership for Affordable Clean Energy)? It seems like a strong possibility. Here's what we wrote about PACE in a post last summer, and we have more coming soon:
Speaking of Alabama Power and Balch Bingham, they are connected to a curious outfit called Partnership for Affordable Clean Energy (PACE). It sounds like PACE is concerned with keeping energy affordable for consumers. But published reports indicate PACE's primary purpose--perhaps its only purpose--is to ensure that Alabama Power's rates stay at a comfortably profitable level. What law firm helped incorporate PACE? Why, it was Balch Bingham. Who really is behind PACE, and how is it funded? That is not entirely clear, but Mobile-based investigative journalist Eddie Curran is shining considerable light on that question. . . . We think Curran's reporting on Alabama Power and PACE, at his blog mrdunngoestomontgomery.com, is worth a look. The following post (at Curran's site) describes the curious relationship between Alabama Power, PACE, and the Montgomery-based political consulting firm Matrix LLC.
Jessica Garrison works for Alabama Power's law firm and buys a house from an Alabama Power executive? Rebekah Mason apparently was paid, in part, via a slush fund connected to Alabama Power? Are more connections present via PACE, and who has benefited from them?
That's a question we will be examining in the coming weeks.