Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Journalistic chicanery, sexual entanglements, and curious cash flow form a strange brew for big-polluting clients represented by Alabama-based Matrix LLC

Kristen Hentschel

Part Two

The story of former ABC News producer Kristen Hentschel and the Matrix LLC political-consulting firm seems, at first glance, to be a tale of what might be called "journalistic fraud." After all, Hentschel would use her ABC News credentials to gain access to pro-environment political candidates, only to pepper them with bogus, accusatory questions designed to benefit Matrix's big-polluting clients -- Alabama Power, Southern Company, and Florida Power & Light. Alabama-based Matrix, it turns out, was paying Hentschel to pull off the deceptive scheme.

Upon further inspection, however, the story includes enough romantic entanglements to fill several scripts for an afternoon soap opera. Perhaps that is fitting because Hentschel, before she was outed and fired by ABC News last week, was best known for having an affair with ABC journalist Chris Hansen, of To Catch a Predator fame.  

A joint investigation by NPR and Florida-based Floodlight led to a story that broke the Hentschel-Matrix scam on a national stage. It was as if the Hentschel-Hansen affair served as an appetizer for the bigger scandal to come - - and, as it turned out, that story had plenty of sex angles, too.

Hentschel worked on the periphery of TV news, but struggled to gain a firm foothold on the big time. Write NPR/Floodlight reporters Miranda Green, Mario Ariza, and David Folkenflik:

Hentschel began her journalism career with short stints at local TV newsrooms in Chico, Calif., Waco, Texas, and Knoxville, Tennessee.

"A lot of people think that the television business ... looks Hollywood-esque," Hentschel once told Baldwin Park Living, a Florida lifestyle magazine. "I made $8 an hour [at] my first job, laid on couches and had to move around literally every one to two years."

At those jobs, she covered crime, storms, traffic — mainstays of local news.

Her career foundered in 2011 when the National Enquirer disclosed a romantic relationship between her and a married man: Chris Hansen, the former host of NBC's To Catch a Predator.

Hentschel learned that TV news presents a double standard for women in a highly competitive business:

Subsequent stints in Las Vegas, Seattle and Orlando, Fla., proved brief. "A double standard is an understatement as to what happens in this industry," Hentschel told RadarOnline.com in an interview about her relationship with Hansen. "The women get fired and the men keep going." Professionally, she had been using the name Kristyn Caddell, which endures on her Twitter account, but shifted to her family name, Kristen Hentschel, by late 2015.

Soon, Hentschel was out of work, and perhaps from desperation, turned to Matrix. Her resume found its way to the firm's CEO, Jeff Pitts -- and he hired her in early 2016. But that was not to be Hentschel's only job:

Hentschel soon secured a second gig. In February 2016, she started as a freelance news producer for ABC News.

Hentschel primarily did work for Good Morning America. Among her assignments: helping with segments on NFL star Tom Brady and the disappearance and death of Gabby Petito, the young Florida woman who documented her cross-country trip on social media.

"Our setup for today... #lighting is everything," Hentschel once tweeted with a photograph of a TV reporting shoot. "Who's in the hot seat?"

The answer often proved to be people Pitts wanted her to confront.

Perhaps the strangest episode came when Matrix decided to spy on Southern Company chief Tom Fanning:

In another instance, the former girlfriend of Southern Company's CEO, Tom Fanning, says Hentschel cozied up to her over the past year. Southern Company is a rival to Florida Power & Light. This August, Alabama news site AL.com reported that Matrix had previously paid a private investigator to spy on Fanning in the summer of 2017. . . . 

Matrix's founder, Joe Perkins, disavows any knowledge of Hentschel's work for Matrix and says Pitts was acting as a "rogue" employee in Florida.

Pitts left Matrix to found a rival firm in late 2020, alleging in court papers that he quit Matrix over Perkins' "unethical business practices," including "ordering and directing the clandestine surveillance including that of top executives of his largest client, the Southern Company." Perkins blames Pitts for the surveillance.

According to NPR/Floodlight, Pitts had a tendency to mix business with pleasure:

Jeff Pitts
Pitts could be a charmer. He was known to cultivate a personal rapport with his corporate clients over sushi and steak dinners, favoring long meals with freely flowing red wine. In an email exchange with a vice president of the energy company NextEra, Pitts wrote, "Talk tomorrow but miss you." She wrote back that his note was a nice surprise. "You said [to] be more open," Pitts replied.

Pitts mixed business with romance, Matrix financial records show. Over the course of the last decade, Pitts paid his then-wife more than $10,000 for work for Matrix, according to copies of the firm's invoices reflecting payments to her personal company. She had previously been employed at Alabama Power, one of Matrix's oldest clients, according to press clippings and two associates.

Matrix also paid Pitts' ongoing romantic partner, Apryl Marie Fogel, a conservative radio-show host, nearly $150,000 over several years. Fogel runs the conservative news site Alabama Today, which published articles showcasing Matrix clients in a favorable light.

On a recent episode of her radio show, Fogel compared her relationship with Pitts to that of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife, the pro-Trump activist Ginni Thomas.

"You check it at the door," Fogel says. "You may be somewhat, in a fuzzy way, aware of what the other person is doing. And you want them to be successful, but it doesn't mean that you two—that everything is running in lockstep."

It did not take long for Hentschel to become part of the romantic scene:

Shortly after Hentschel started working for Pitts at Matrix, the two began an affair, associates say, though it is not clear how long it lasted. Hentschel bought a home close to Pitts' apartment in West Palm Beach, Florida, public records show.

Meanwhile, Hentschel targeted political figures who could pose a problem for Matrix clients. One target proved to be the mayor of South Miami, who had promoted residential solar panels in the Sunshine State:

Hentschel called Phil Stoddard, then the mayor of South Miami, in August 2018. He says she identified herself as an ABC reporter and asked him about an upcoming press conference likely to bring unflattering publicity. A lawsuit had been filed by parents of a teenager who was hospitalized years earlier after attending a party thrown by Stoddard's teenage daughter. (The suit was ultimately settled.)

The press conference turned out to be a sham. It had been orchestrated by Joe Carrillo, a private detective, and Dan Newman, a political operative with financial links to Matrix, according to Matrix documents and a copy of the press release obtained by Floodlight and NPR.

Matrix paid Hentschel $2,000 a few weeks later for what was itemized as a "Miami shoot," a Matrix ledger shows.

The interest in Stoddard, a biologist, seems easy to discern. Stoddard had clashed with Florida Power & Light over transmission lines, a nuclear power plant, and policies on residential solar panels. . . . 

Internal Matrix emails between Newman, the political operative, and Pitts, the firm's then-CEO, show it hired a private detective to investigate Stoddard's personal life. The Orlando Sentinel reported that Matrix-linked nonprofits spent six figures trying to knock him out of office. . . . 

On Sept. 26, Hentschel showed up with a videographer to a city council meeting.

"I thought, 'No good's gonna come of this,'" Stoddard recalls. He shut down her requests for comment at the council meeting. He continued battling Florida Power & Light even after he left office in 2020.

NPR/Floodlight found that ABC News probably should not have been caught off guard by Hentschel's activities:

There is evidence that ABC News was first told two years ago that Hentschel inappropriately invoked her network ties in conducting work that had nothing to do with ABC News.

U.S. Rep. Brian Mast of Florida, a conservative Republican, has established a record as an advocate of strengthening water quality in Lake Okeechobee, the state's largest freshwater lake. He has introduced four pieces of legislation to address toxic algal blooms there.

His work puts him at odds with Florida's powerful sugar interest, Florida Crystals. Okeechobee is kept artificially full for that industry and other corporate use. Mast's bills could ultimately cut into their profits.

"They'll do anything that they can to hold onto that grip of controlling water in the state of Florida," Mast says. "And I'm probably the number one person that goes against them."

In the heat of the 2020 election season, Hentschel chased down Mast at a fundraiser featuring then-President Donald Trump. She told Mast's aides she wanted to ask him about messages he wrote nearly a decade earlier, before entering politics. He had joked about rape and sex with teenagers in Facebook posts to a friend. They had just surfaced publicly, and he had apologized. The aides didn't bite.

The conservative Florida news site The Capitolist called Mast's proposals extreme and urged readers to vote for his Democratic opponent. Matrix had previously funneled The Capitolist nearly $200,000 from Florida Power & Light, the firm's invoices show. Perkins denied Matrix paid The Capitolist and said the company "was unaware of any financial relationships between The Capitolist and any Matrix client."

That September, Hentschel rang the doorbell at Mast's home in a gated community and told Mast's wife she was reporting for ABC, even handing over a business card citing the network, according to Mast's accounts in an interview for this story and in a trespassing complaint he filed with police.

A senior aide to Mast shot off an email to ABC. Its political director, Rick Klein, replied that Hentschel was not there for the network.

Election Day was two months away. In a video he posted on Facebook, Mast denounced his Democratic opponent for sending Hentschel to his door. "I want to talk about something that frankly is just BS," Mast said.

Mast now says he believes Hentschel sought to intimidate him on behalf of the sugar company and Matrix client Florida Crystals — an allegation the company rejected. 

The story eventually circles back to the peculiar surveillance of Southern Company CEO Tom Fanning -- and Hentschel played a role in that, too:

In fact, Hentschel's work stretched beyond Florida politicians and news conferences.

This past June, fitness instructor Kim Tanaka was sitting poolside at an upscale hotel in Atlanta when a reporter for Bloomberg News called with a startling question: Did Tanaka know that she had been spied on five years prior?

Tanaka's boyfriend during that period was Tom Fanning, the CEO of energy giant Southern Company — a direct competitor of Florida Power & Light. The couple broke up in late 2017.

The reporter, Josh Saul, laid out the material he'd obtained in a leaked Matrix dossier, which included private information about her, Tanaka recalls.

"It made me feel mad. Definitely violated. And anxious," Tanaka says.

Bloomberg never published a story. A private investigator confirmed to AL.com this year that he had surveilled Tanaka and Fanning five years ago for Matrix. (Matrix founder Perkins says then-CEO Pitts ordered the operation without his knowledge. Pitts says Perkins knew.)

But there was another shocker in the dossier. It didn't just contain old information pertaining to Tanaka — it contained recent and sensitive information about Fanning's wife, whom he married after breaking up with Tanaka. To Tanaka, it meant the spying had continued as recently as this year.

A friend was sitting alongside Tanaka in June as she took Saul's call: Kristen Hentschel.

Kristen Hentschel

In late 2021, Hentschel had hired Tanaka at an Atlanta gym to be her personal trainer, even though there's no record of Hentschel living in Georgia. The two became close, even vacationing together. Another former Matrix operative, Paul Hamrick, had also hired Tanaka as his trainer the same week as Hentschel, according to emails reviewed by Floodlight and NPR. Tanaka says she told Hentschel and Hamrick private details found in the dossier and doesn't know if they or someone else spied on her. Hentschel remains a good friend, Tanaka says, and a lot of fun.

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Matrix LLC paid ABC News "producer" to pepper pro-environment political candidates with deceptive questions in an effort to boost its clients who pollute

Kristen Hentschel (NY Post)

Part One

A journalist who identifies herself as working for ABC News has been paid by an Alabama-based political-consulting firm to sideswipe pro-environment politicians with deceptive questions, according to a report at NPR/Floodlight.

The journalist was Kristen Hentschel, the consulting firm was Montgomery-based Matrix LLC. The beneficiaries of the scheme were designed to be Matrix clients -- such as Alabama Power, Southern Company, and Florida Power & Light -- all with ties to projects known to produce pollution.

How did the "reporting" scheme with an ABC News journalist work? Exhibit A involves a Florida political candidate named Toby Overdorf, who had pledged to take a serious approach to environmental protection. That's where Hentschel enters the picture. Under the headline "She was an ABC News producer. She also was a corporate operativeNPR/Floodlight reporters Miranda Green, Mario Ariza, and David Folkenflik write:

Microphone and ABC News business card in hand, Hentschel rushed up to a candidate for the Florida House of Representatives before a debate, the candidate recalls, and asked him about 20 dead gopher tortoises that were reportedly found at a nearby construction site [in Stuart, FL]. Florida designates the species as threatened.

Overdorf, an environmental engineer, served as a consultant on the construction project -- and he knew of no such tortoises. A city investigation found there were no dead tortoises, and no evidence that any ever had been present during the construction project. The oddities about the story do not end there, as NPR/Floodlight report:

That wasn't the only surprise. Though Hentschel has done freelance work for ABC, she was not there for the network.

At the time, a political consulting firm called Matrix LLC had paid Hentschel at least $7,000, the firm's internal ledgers show. And Matrix billed two major companies for Hentschel's work, labeling the payments "for Florida Crystals, FPL." (Florida Crystals is a huge sugar conglomerate. FPL is shorthand for the giant utility Florida Power & Light.)

Both companies could have benefited from Hentschels efforts to undermine Overdorf and his promises to resolve environmental issues in the district he was vying to represent. Florida Power & Light has pushed back against efforts to bring solar panels to the Sunshine State, while runoff from the sugar industry is a major source of water pollution in Florida.

Overdorf won his election, but he remains distressed that he was subjected to such  journalistic skulduggery:

"It was an attack ad against my livelihood, my family," Overdorf says. "And it was something that potentially could last far beyond my time running for office."

Overdorf was not the only victim of the Hentschel/Matrix operation. Once Hentschel's ties to Matrix became public, ABC cut ties with her earlier this week:

Interviews for this story and Matrix ledgers show Hentschel traded on her work for ABC News at least three times to trip up Florida politicians whose stances on environmental regulations cut against the interests of major Matrix clients. Internal Matrix financial records originally sent anonymously to the Orlando Sentinel and shared with Floodlight show that since 2016, the firm has paid Hentschel at least $14,350.

According to two people at ABC News with knowledge, Hentschel was not, in fact, reporting for ABC on any of those subjects. "If she was working on these stories, she was not authorized to cover them for ABC News," one of them said. They requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about sensitive network matters. . . . 

"Kristen Hentschel was a freelance daily hire who never worked for ABC News on the political stories referenced in the NPR article," the network said in a statement. "She does not currently work for ABC NEWS."

How unusual is the Hentschel story.? One news veteran cannot remember another one like it:

David Westin, president of ABC News from 1997 to 2010, says he never came across an instance in which a journalist for the network was simultaneously doing advocacy.

"It just goes to the very heart of why people no longer have the same confidence and trust in the news media as they once did," says Westin, now an anchor for Bloomberg TV. "They suspect this is going on anyway, and for it to actually go on confirms their worst suspicions."

Hentschel, it turns out, appeared in all kinds of places -- almost like a female Forrest Gump:

In another instance, the former girlfriend of Southern Company's CEO, Tom Fanning, says Hentschel cozied up to her over the past year. Southern Company is a rival to Florida Power & Light. This August, Alabama news site AL.com reported that Matrix had previously paid a private investigator to spy on Fanning in the summer of 2017.

Hentschel did not return multiple detailed requests for comment.

Matrix's former CEO, Jeff Pitts, who hired Hentschel for the firm, declined comment.   

That leads us back -- as Matrix-related stories often do -- to the legal feud between Pitts and Joe Perkins:

Matrix's founder, Joe Perkins, disavows any knowledge of Hentschel's work for Matrix and says Pitts was acting as a "rogue"employee in Florida.

Pitts left Matrix to found a rival firm in late 2020, alleging in court papers that he quit Matrix over Perkins' "unethical business practices," including "ordering and directing the clandestine surveillance , including that of top executives of his largest client, the Southern Company." Perkins blames Pitts for the surveillance.

All of this leads to questions about the possible roles of Southern Company, Alabama Power, and Matrix in other unsavory Alabama events. These include the head-on vehicle crash that nearly killed Birmingham-area attorney Burt Newsome, someone shooting into the car of former Drummond Company executive David Roberson as he drove on U.S. 280 near Mountain Brook, and an apparent fake deposition of a Verizon Wireless records custodian in the Newsome Conspiracy Case

Documents -- and investigative reporting -- shine considerable light on Hentschel's ties to Matrix:

After Pitts left Matrix, reporters from Floodlight and NPR obtained company records documenting Hentschel's work. This story also draws on other materials, including court records, and 14 interviews with people with direct knowledge of her activities.

In recent months, Matrix has also been accused of interfering in the workings of democracy in Alabama and Florida by seeking to influence ballot initiatives, running ghost candidates and offering a lucrative job to a public official if he resigned. As Floodlight and NPR have revealed, Matrix secretly maintained financial ties to a half-dozen political news sites and tried to ensure favorable coverage for clients.

Next: Romantic intrigue plays a major role in the Hentschel/Matrix story.

Note: New York Post picks up on a journalism scandal with ties to Alabama; The UK Daily Mail also tackles the story.

Here are other major news outlets to cover the story:

* The Daily Beast

* AdWeek 

* Politico MediaWatch

* Radaronline

* Raw Story

* Daily Caller 

* Offthepress 

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Terry Dunn warned about repercussions of lax regulation and drew the wrath of Alabama Power's surrogates as the state's electricity bills continue to soar

Terry Dunn

Part Two 

Terry Dunn knows what it's like to be a voice in the wilderness. As a member of the Alabama Public Service Commission (PSC) from 2010 to 2014, he warned the public that regulators' hands-off approach to Alabama Power would lead to escalating power bills in the future. But relatively few Alabamians seemed to listen, and in the process, Dunn learned what it's like to be targeted by the power company's scheme to pay digital-news outlets to attack its critics -- a scheme NPR and Floodlight helped expose in an investigative report yesterday, as we outlined in Part One of our series.  

Dunn wound up losing in the 2014 election, but his voice still is being heard. From the NPR/Floodlight report:

Terry Dunn couldn't fathom why Alabama's residents — among the poorest in the U.S. — pay some of the nation's most expensive electricity bills.

So in 2010, Dunn ran for a seat on the state commission that sets energy prices. He promised to hold a formal rate hearing at which Alabama Power executives would have to open their financial books and answer questions, under oath and in public. That hadn't happened for nearly three decades.

After winning, Dunn says, a top lobbyist for the utility took him aside and promised he could hold his roughly $100,000-a-year position on the commission for years — as long as he remained a team player. (Alabama Power declined to make the executive available to address the accusation; the utility and its corporate parent, Southern Company, declined all comment for this story.)

"They didn't take me serious," Dunn says now.

 Soon, Dunn learned the kind of price he would have to pay for not playing ball: 

Dunn, a Republican and Tea Party conservative, plowed ahead. And soon enough, he found himself the target of a political pressure campaign, replete with character assassinations and online smears.

Attacks began in online news outlets in 2013. One headline in Yellowhammer News read: "Democrats Embrace Republican Public Service Commissioner Terry Dunn."

In a June 2014 column, Alabama Political Reporter's editor in chief, Bill Britt, cast Dunn as a pawn of his own aide, a Democrat.

"For some Dunn is a populist hero; for others, he's a radical environmentalist," Britt wrote. He saw Dunn as manipulated by those who "find companies like Alabama Power a convenient political target."

These were devastating portrayals for Dunn in a deeply red state.

"Mostly everything was all made up," he says. "You get to thinking, 'Why are they attacking me?' I'm just telling the truth and trying to do what's right for the people."

Was Alabama Power behind the attacks? That remains unclear, but it was clear that Dunn's hands-on approach was not welcome at the PSC:

Floodlight and NPR have not been able to independently verify whether Alabama Power directed or had prior notice of the sharply critical coverage aimed at Dunn.

In 2014, Dunn lost his reelection bid by 19 percentage points — to a catfish farmer who had previously served as a county commissioner.

Eight years after Dunn's defeat, Alabama has still not held a rate hearing on electricity prices. Alabama Power remains one of the most profitable utility companies in the country.

K.B. Forbes, CEO of the CDLU public charity and advocacy group and publisher of the banbalch.com blog, has become one of the power company's most vocal critics -- and like Dunn, he learned that can make you a target.  

Alabama Political Reporter (APR) and Yellowhammer News are perhaps the two most prominent news sites in the state that have become part of a network forged by Matrix LLC and its founder, Joe Perkins.  Forbes reported that anonymously supplied financial documents show Alabama Power funneled $120,000 in 2020 to APR. The payments appear to have coincided with three hit pieces against Forbes and the CDLU. On top of that, Forbes reports, APR journalist Josh Moon conducted what might be called a "research expedition" targeting CDLU and its CEO. 

What about Yellowhammer News? Well, its activities are a little more difficult to decipher, report NPR/Floodlight:

The links to Yellowhammer News are more convoluted. In 2014 — the year Terry Dunn lost his bid for reelection — he faced attacks in the online press, including in Yellowhammer News.

Floodlight and NPR were able to document a complex stream of transactions between a nonprofit run by an Alabama Power contractor and a series of nonprofits linked to Matrix and Yellowhammer News.

For example, Yellowhammer News runs the Facebook page of a nonprofit, the Alabama Free Market Alliance, which attacks renewable energy. That nonprofit received $100,000 in 2014 from the Alabama Power-linked group, federal tax records show. All the nonprofits were involved in work that furthered the interests of Alabama Power.

"Yellowhammer Multimedia has no relationship, financial or otherwise, with Alabama Political Reporter, Matrix LLC or Alabama Free Market Alliance," Yellowhammer News owner Allison Ross says. She did not respond to questions about the site's relationship with Alabama Power.

As for Matrix, its influence has grown well beyond the boundaries of Alabama:

Florida has stood out as one of Matrix's biggest successes. The firm represented several of the state's largest corporations, including a major fertilizer and sugar company as well as Florida Power & Light.

Documents obtained for this story show executives at Matrix and Florida Power & Light dictated some coverage at The Capitolist after a Matrix employee purchased an option to buy the publication in 2019 through a limited liability company.

In May 2020, The Capitolist ran a story mocking a call by the Miami Herald for reader donations. The headline read: "The Miami Herald has turned to begging to support their biased reporting and fear-mongering."

Emails obtained by Floodlight and NPR for this story show that Florida Power & Light CEO Eric Silagy had proposed the story to Matrix employees.

"I would think The Capitolist would have a field day with this one," Silagy wrote to Pitts on May 4, 2020. The story ran three days later. Silagy had also suggested a cartoon of a prominent Herald reporter, Mary Ellen Klas, "with a tin cup on the street corner." The Capitolist blasted to thousands of its email newsletter subscribers an edited image of Klas in which she holds a sign asking for "Spare change for Fake News — Miami Herald reporter needs help."

Journalism relies on a currency of trust: trust that the information provided is fairly presented. Trust that there are no hidden ulterior motives driving those reports, even when news is presented with a point of view.

"If you are paid for copy, then you can't be fair," says Chuck Strouse, the former editor in chief of Miami New Times. "You have to acknowledge and be upfront with your reader about what exactly is happening. I mean, that's just a cardinal rule of journalism."

The editors operating the Matrix-linked sites do not appear to be following those rules.

For example, emails show that The Capitolist's editor-in-chief and publisher, Brian Burgess — once a top aide to Senator Scott back when Scott was Florida's governor — asked Matrix executives for permission to write a pro-solar energy story. The story was requested in May 2020 by one of The Capitolist's other sponsors — a public relations company.

"Sachs Media is asking me for coverage on this, but wanted to run it by you first," Burgess wrote to Abigail MacIver, the Matrix employee to whom the site was formally registered. "Need guidance on this ASAP."

One Florida publisher admits he does not play by standard journalism rules:

Of all the leaders of sites with links to Matrix, only one, Florida Politics Publisher Peter Schorsch, acknowledges he doesn't observe traditional journalistic practices when deciding what to cover.

A 2021 invoice shared by Schorsch shows that Florida Power & Light paid the site $43,000 for advertising, enough to cover the cost of a full-time reporter. Schorsch says his reporters do private research for clients too, though he would not specify what that entailed.

By his own account, Schorsch also was paid roughly $100,000 by Apryl Marie Fogel, the publisher of Alabama Today, another of the Matrix-linked sites. The money went for help with "editorial and digital tech services," he tells NPR and Floodlight. Fogel, who is also former Matrix CEO Pitts' romantic partner, received more than $140,000 from Matrix, the firm's records show. (She declines to comment on her ties to Matrix, saying "not my monkeys, not my circus.")

Meanwhile, back in Alabama, Terry Dunn has a case of "I tried to tell you":

As for Terry Dunn, he now lives more than two hours' drive from Montgomery, Alabama's capital. He left the city for good after he lost his reelection bid in 2014.

"Seeing how dirty everything was, [it's] basically just a cesspool down there," Dunn says. "I was glad to get out."

Despite believing Alabama Power sent Matrix to drag him down, Dunn has trouble separating those who created corporate propaganda from the people who swallowed it — and voted him out of office. He knows that Alabama residents' electricity rates are not appreciably better today than they were before his election. These days, what fight he had has been displaced by resentment.

"Alabamians bitched about high power bills, but when they had someone that would address it, they abandoned me," Dunn says. "So let them struggle to keep the lights on."

Monday, December 19, 2022

NPR probe: Alabama Power and other big utilities in the South pay media sites, often through Matrix LLC, to attack clean energy backers and other critics

Alabama Power (Power Magazine)

Part One

At least a half dozen digital news sites in the Southeast have financial ties to a Montgomery, AL-based consulting firm that pays them in various ways to be part of an "orchestrated effort" to help big utilities fight clean-energy initiatives, according to an investigative report today from NPR and Florida-based Floodlight. Matrix LLC is at the heart of the effort, and one of its primary clients is Alabama Power.

Two Alabama news sites -- Alabama Political Reporter and Yellowhammer News play a prominent role in the report. Under the headline "In the Southeast, power company money flows to news sites that attack their critics," reporters David Folkenflik, Mario Ariza, and Miranda Green write:

Yellowhammer News and Alabama Political Reporter offer clashing ideologies - one hardline conservative, the other centrist - and appear simply to be competitors. Owners of the two sites separately defend their coverage, saying they are independent news outlets.

In reality, they are among six news outlets across Alabama and Florida with financial connections to the consulting firm Matrix LLC, a joint investigation by Floodlight and NPR finds. The firm, based in Montgomery, Alabama, has boasted clients, including Alabama Power and another major U.S. utility, Florida Power & Light.

In addition to Yellowhammer and Alabama Political Reporter, the sites include Alabama Today, The Capitolist, Florida Politics and the now-defunct Sunshine State News.

A tally of the five still-functioning sites show they have a collective audience of 1.3 million unique monthly visitors. Many of their consumers are political professionals, business leaders, and journalists — people who help set the agenda for lawmakers and talk-radio shows in both states.

These readers have been unknowingly immersing themselves in an echo chamber of questionable coverage for years.

In other words, you are not likely to read critical reports of Big Power at any of these news sites. In fact, the NPR/Floodlight reports portrays them largely as purveyors of propaganda. How did such sites come to find a prominent place in Southern journalism?

Matrix shrewdly took advantage of the near collapse of the local newspaper industry and a concurrent plunge in trust in media in propelling its clients' interests.

"The reduction in just the size of the press corps covering state government has created a vacuum that I think tends to be filled by people who have agendas beyond serving the public interest," says former Miami Herald executive editor Tom Fiedler.

A core tenet of U.S. journalism holds that reporting should be fair and transparent, unaffected by financial backers who may have their own hidden interests. News outlets are supposed to hold the powerful to account and give people the knowledge to make choices as informed citizens.

The public bears the brunt of deep cuts in conventional newsroom staffs, Fiedler says, as those driving the news agenda at some newer outlets are often "the special interests - in many cases, the monied interests."

Secrecy plays a central role in the Matrix enterprise, according to NPR/Floodlight

In Alabama and Florida, Matrix sought to ensure much coverage was secretly driven by the priorities of its clients. Payments flowed as the utilities in Florida and Alabama fought efforts to incorporate more clean energy in electric grids — a fight they are still waging.

For this investigation, Floodlight and NPR drew upon hundreds of internal Matrix documents and public records, more than three dozen interviews, a review of social media postings, and an original analysis of coverage.

Those accounts reflect a complex web of financial links, in which the six outlets collectively received, at minimum, $900,000 from Matrix, its clients, and associated entities between 2013 and 2020.

All of the media organizations deny their coverage was shaped by those payments and deny they acted unethically.

Longtime Alabama power broker Joe Perkins appears again and again in the investigative report -- and big money clearly is involved in his enterprise:

The founder of Matrix, Joe Perkins, says the firm paid news sites only for advertising and other run-of-the-mill services for its clients. He also denies Matrix paid anything at all to two of the sites. Beyond that, Perkins has consistently called the firm's former CEO, Jeff Pitts, a "rogue employee" and, in a lawsuit, alleges Matrix is not responsible because the former executive acted without his knowledge or his firm's consent. Pitts did not respond to several detailed requests for comment. In court filings, Pitts says Perkins knew everything–and he accused Perkins of wrongdoing.

They also cast blame on one another over a series of recent scandals. Matrix recently made headlines for surveillance of a power company CEO and a journalist who wrote critically about Florida Power & Light's business plans. Matrix has also been accused of seeking to influence ballot initiatives on clean energy and offering a lucrative job to a public official in Jacksonville to induce him to resign. Florida Power & Light did not respond to a detailed list of questions, and an executive for the company declined to address them in a phone call.

Coverage of Matrix's power company clients at the six news sites ebbed and surged around election seasons and other key inflection points. For example, Sunshine State News emerged when Sen. Rick Scott, a consistent ally of Florida Power & Light, was governor of Florida and maintained warm ties with him. Matrix records show the firm paid the site at least $180,000. It shuttered a year after he won election to the U.S. Senate. A former Scott aide also founded The Capitolist, based in Tallahassee.

Additionally, Matrix's clients took a strong interest in who wrote the laws and enforced the regulations. Last year, Florida Power & Light wrote a bill that was passed by the Florida Legislature and that would have gutted the ability of homeowners to make money off solar panels. Gov. Ron DeSantis ultimately vetoed it.

One state away, Alabama Power runs and owns a coal-fired power plant that is the largest single source of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States.

Does Alabama Power receive positive treatment from members of the Matrix network in its home state? Oh, yes

An analysis by Floodlight and NPR of the three Alabama news sites with links to Matrix finds overwhelmingly positive coverage of Alabama Power. The review looked at articles on each site that contained the phrase "Alabama Power" and found that the vast majority of pieces either were positive or appeared to mirror a news release by the utility.

In interviews, two former reporters at the Alabama Political Reporter recounted episodes in which articles about Alabama Power received intense and unusual scrutiny from editors. In one case, the story was never published. Its proprietor denies any such influence on the site.

Together, Alabama Power and Florida Power & Light keep the lights on for nearly 7.5 million businesses and households. Since consumers' payments contribute to much of the two utilities' profits, much of the money that the companies spend effectively derives from consumers' bills.

As for Perkins, he holds a deep fascination with, and knowledge of,  the media -- and how it can be influenced:

Matrix founder Joe Perkins has long held an interest in the power of the media. As a doctoral student at the University of Alabama, he wrote his thesis about a specific quandary: How can journalists' choice of sources and anecdotes affect public sentiment?

"When a minority opinion gains access to the news media repeatedly through various techniques to make its point, it may be perceived as more widespread and pervasive than it actually is," he wrote in his 73-page paper.

He then put his research to use, building up Matrix.

In the early days, Matrix quietly sought to influence decisions over matters like who was eligible to win contracts with the Alabama teachers pension fund. The firm eventually established a presence in 10 states.

Stealth was a hallmark of the operation. Matrix employees often created shell companies to conduct transactions for clients.

"Invisibility is more powerful than celebrity," reads a plaque hanging in Matrix's Montgomery office.

The feud between Perkins and Pitts opened a window to Matrix that the public generally had never seen:

In the early days, Matrix quietly sought to influence decisions over matters like who was eligible to win contracts with the Alabama teachers pension fund. The firm eventually established a presence in 10 states.

Stealth was a hallmark of the operation. Matrix employees often created shell companies to conduct transactions for clients.

"Invisibility is more powerful than celebrity," reads a plaque hanging in Matrix's Montgomery office.

Perkins and Pitts, the CEO, were characterized by some as akin to father and son; Perkins promised to one day pass on the company. Pitts benefited from an ability to instill loyalty and fear in those who carried out his commands, according to multiple people who have worked with him. (Most Matrix associates refused to be interviewed on the record for this story, citing the influence the two men maintain in their professional circles.)

It took the unraveling of Matrix to reveal the full extent of its influence.

At the end of 2020, Pitts left Matrix to start his own rival consulting firm called Canopy Partners. Perkins sued, accusing Pitts of secretly engaging in work for a utility based in Juno Beach, Florida while at Matrix. That is where Florida Power & Light is headquartered.

In litigation involving both men, Pitts alleged he quit Matrix over Perkins' "unethical practices," including "deploying phony groups and digital platforms to intimidate individuals as a method to influence public perception and litigation."

As for the two biggest Alabama players under the Matrix umbrella, they appear to approach the news in different ways, but they have much in common:

The Alabama Political Reporter and Yellowhammer News launched during the same week in 2011. They have consistently cheered Alabama Power through overwhelmingly positive news stories.

Starting at least as far back as April 2013, Matrix paid $8,000 a month to the Alabama Political Reporter, according to internal Matrix records. Matrix also drew up a proposed website design for the publication in June 2015, according to prototypes obtained by Floodlight and NPR.

Britt, Alabama Political Reporter's editor in chief, says he could not verify the specific Matrix payments. He mocks the authenticity of the prototype, while confirming that Matrix designed his website. Britt affirms he took money from the firm for advertising and acknowledges that Matrix also paid for reporters to do research for the firm, an atypical practice for newsrooms.

"We have to make money," Britt says.

When Alabama Power CEO Mark Crosswhite announced his retirement last month, Alabama Political Reporter posted a story written by "STAFF." It reproduced the company's press release, verbatim.

Next: Alabamians can't say they weren't warned about the connections between Alabama Power's business practices and soaring power bills.


Note: The NPR/Floodlight collaboration attracted the attention of Muck Rack, a widely read online platform for professionals in journalism and public relations. From today's Muck Rack newsletter: 

Next is the latest investigation by David Folkenflik, Mario Ariza and Miranda Green, a collaboration between NPR and Floodlight News, In the Southeast, power company money flows to news sites that attack their critics.

Emily Atkin urges, “If you let any story cut through all the Twitter noise today, please let it be this: At least six local news websites across Alabama and Florida have been secretly taking payments from power companies to run stories attacking clean energy + other policies.”

“Great story on how Alabama Power and other utilities manipulate ‘news’ sites to shape public opinion,” Rob Holbert says. “After APCO’s second rate increase in a month this should interest rate payers. See where your bill is going.”

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Documents show funds for terror campaign were tied to Alabama Power External Affairs Office, and hackers launch assault on CDLU-backed journalism


Anonymously supplied financial documents show that terror attacks against a Birmingham attorney and the author of a Birmingham-based blog (and their families) were authorized by an executive vice president at Alabama Power, according to a report out this morning. The report also reveals that someone has launched a backing campaign against the blog in question -- banbalch.com, which operates under the banner of the CDLU public charity and advocacy group

The hacking effort was discovered a short while ago, writes K.B. Forbes, CEO of the CDLU:

Just a few minutes ago we were alerted that there were 101 login attempts against this blog,  BanBalch.com, this morning and the number is climbing as hackers attempt to breach our security and firewall.

We have struck a raw nerve, or maybe an inflamed brain.

We have now been able to confirm that the anonymous financial documents we received show Excel spreadsheet meta data that exposes the fact that “special” expenditures by Alabama Power against us, the CDLU, appear to have been authorized and allegedly supervised by Zeke Smith, Alabama Power Executive Vice President of External Affairs. 

The Excel workbook titled APC CDLU SPECIAL, lists the report for “Zeke 82520” or in other words, a financial report dated August 25, 2020 for Zeke Smith. The report was generated by “Sloppy Joe” Perkins ' obscure political consulting firm, Matrix, for their top client, Alabama Power.

The data on the spreadsheets shows numerous line items that were heavy expenditures in the hundreds of thousands to terrorize the Forbes Family and their two young daughters, and to smear (attorney) Burt Newsome falsely as a rapist.

The data is in line with a number of unseemly events. Writes Forbes:

The data on the spreadsheets shows numerous line items that were heavy expenditures in the hundreds of thousands to terrorize the Forbes Family and their two young daughters, and to smear Burt Newsome falsely as a rapist.

The data lines up chronologically to independent sources and events.

Documents also appear to show that Zeke Smith's colleague, Jeff Peoples, authorized a five-figure contract to terrorize the Newsome Family and their four young children. This allegedly included shipping travel bags and outfits for Newsome’s wife and four children, an act implying that Newsome or his family would be headed on a “permanent vacation.”

Two weeks after the Excel workbook was allegedly published for Zeke Smith, Newsome was hit head on in a vehicle crash, gravely injured, and almost murdered, assassinated killed.

Beautiful, isn’t it?

Of course, it's anything but beautiful, and one can only wonder how far desperate people might go. A portion of a document that's at the heart of the matter can be viewed on the end of the post at this link.

Religious fervor and rapid rate increases go hand in hand when the Public Service Commission meets to worship -- I mean regulate -- Alabama Power

Why was Alabama Power CEO Mark A. Crosswhite ousted -- sugar-coated as a retirement -- in late November.? Several factors probably were in play, as banbalch.com has reported in a recent series of eight posts. K.B. Forbes, publisher of Ban Balch and CEO of the CDLU public charity and advocacy group, reports that strict regulation was not one of those factors. In fact, Forbes states, members of the Alabama Public Service Commission (PSC) approach their regulatory role over the power company with a rubber stamp in their hands and an almost Biblical reverence in their hearts. John Archibald, of al.com, provided valuable insight into that peculiar relationship -- which tends to produce poor results for consumers -- in a column earlier this week. Archibald's piece clearly resonated with Forbes, who writes:

Pulitzer-winning columnist John Archibald on Monday wrote a powerful column on how Alabama’s Public Service Commission worships Alabama Power (APCO). He described the situation:

It was Alabama Power’s third rate hike of the year, the second in as many months, and it passed without discussion or debate or even the sign of the cross. It took a press release from Alabama Power itself later that day to translate the events of that meeting, to acknowledge the rate increase, effective in January, would add about $6.81 per month for the typical residential customer. After rate increases in July and November, the average customer will pay about $22.81 more per month than at the start of this year. That’s $273.72 more a year.

The Public Service Commission has rubber stamped the Alabama Power rate increases with no debate, no thought whatsoever.

We will dive deeper into Forbes' thoughts in a moment, but first, we must give credit to the al.com copy desk -- whose members tend to perform as the unheralded "offensive linemen" of the journalism world.  They have produced a headline for the ages: "Archibald: Oh Lord, tell us who the Alabama PSC worships most". If that doesn't make you want to read a column, nothing will. And Archibald does not disappoint as he examines the strange religiosity surrounding the PSC-APCO relationship. Writes Archibald:

Sometimes it’s hard to know who, or what, the Alabama Public Service Commission worships most.

I’m kidding. It’s not that hard. But they try real hard to throw us off.

Last week, for instance, the PSC started as always it does, with a prayer to Jesus, given by a friend of one of our elected officials. Commission President Twinkle Cavanaugh “thought it would be a nice opportunity for us to highlight one of our newest staff members” by putting him behind the prayer mic. So the prayer was given by the PSC’s new acting director of the regulator’s Gas Pipeline and Safety Division. He was hard to hear, at least down here on earth, but by PSC standards it was pretty vanilla.

The prayer and pledge were done in three minutes flat, and we were on to the meeting. Amen and Amen. But we weren’t through with the public religious service.

Commissioners, barely visible behind Hallmark-worthy strands of garland draping the dais, opened up with important regulatory news. Except they didn’t. Commissioner Jeremy Oden asked for time, he said, to talk of a sermon he gave over the weekend about the hustle and bustle of Christmas.

“Christmas is a time in which we should enjoy our friends and should enjoy our family, and I think the old saying is ‘the reason for the season.’” he said. “And really and truly, you can’t have Christmas without the reason. And that’s the birth of our savior, Jesus Christ.”“So thank y’all for that,” he concluded. “I just needed to do a little pastoral thing this morning.”

A "pastoral thing"? What was this meeting about again? I think I've forgotten, but Archibald's description of the PSC's act is so compelling that I want to buy tickets for the next get-together. And, Archibald assures us, this is not new stuff; it's standard fare for the PSC:

You’d think, if you just watched this PSC from time to time, and heard the prayers uttered there in the past, that it worships the Christian God – albeit a very narrow version of that God.

The PSC only spent about four minutes talking to God and the birth of his son. It wasn’t long. But it spent no time at all talking about the most significant regulatory duty that came before it that day: Alabama Power’s latest rate hike.

Let's throw it back to K.B. Forbes in the studio:

And who are the commissioners? Three of them, all elected -- Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh, Chip Beeker, and Jeremy Oden.

All three commissioner have received hundreds of thousands of dollars in election support in a web of PACs and independent committees affiliated with or allies of Alabama Power.

Sources claim that Alabama Power was allegedly involved in extensive corruption utilizing a web of shady operatives, obscure consulting firms, and a network of pay-through entities to allegedly compromise elected officials.

Just like the corrupt Alliance for Jobs and the Economy (AJE), the entity that funneled $360,000 in bribes to convicted felon and ex-State Representative Oliver Robinson, how many other front groups and entities were used to compromise elected officials on behalf of Alabama Power?

The financial documents we received anonymously show that several unknown or obscure entities in Birmingham, Montgomery and Auburn were paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by Alabama Power through Matrix.

Forbes promptly cuts to the chase, with a number of spot-on questions:

For what purpose? To what end?

Were they pay-throughs? Were they entities set up to help launder money to elected officials?

Were they part of an organized criminal effort to attack perceived enemies and innocent families and their children? Or were they set up to buy a politician or three?

 The rate increases could come in handy under at least one scenario, Forbes writes:

The bottom line is with the three rate increases, Alabama Power will generate $400 million in additional revenue.

These rate increases were key to help pay down the billion-dollar cost-overruns of the boondoggle Vogtle Nuclear Power Plant in Georgia.

Crosswhite, we are told, allegedly demanded these rate increases so he could be the “knight in shining armor” that saved Southern Company financially and would be easily promoted to CEO and Chairman of Southern Company.

Instead, Crosswhite is leaving like “a donkey with his tail between his legs.”

 At least the power-company folks seem to appreciate a little irony with their drama:

The irony is the Vogtle Power plant is named after former Alabama Power and Southern Company Chairman Alvin Vogtle. After 31 years, Vogtle’s grandson Jesse S. Vogtle, Jr. left Alabama Power’s sister-wife Balch & Bingham during an exodus in 2020. Vogtle's exit appears to have tarnished Balch’s relationship with the utility and hurt Vogtle’s former colleague Crosswhite, who had previously worked at Balch for 17 years.

The Vogtle exit ended some of the worshipping, and Crosswhite’s reputation has tumbled ever since. The following probably will not help anyone's reputation at Southern Company. An environmental group claims Plant Vogtle is sinking -- no kidding -- and Nuclear News spells it out:

The Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL), a North Carolina–based antinuclear organization, is claiming that Vogtle-3—one of two 1,100-MWe AP1000 pressurized water reactors currently under construction at the Vogtle nuclear plant near Waynesboro, Ga.—is sinking. .  . 

“Vogtle has finally admitted that the sheer weight of the nuclear island building is causing it to sink into the red Georgia clay,” said Arnold Gundersen, a nuclear power opponent of some prominence, in a BREDL press release. “It is figuratively and literally sinking under its own weight. Islands are not supposed to sink.”

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

As customers face bills that keep going up, Alabama Power is getting down with dubious spending sprees to smear, intimidate, and harass perceived enemies


It has been quite a year for rate increases at Alabama Power. Mounting power bills for customers come as the big utility has developed dubious spending habits, reports K.B. Forbes, publisher of banbalch.com and CEO of the CDLU public charity and advocacy group. Writes Forbes in a post published yesterday:

Last week, Alabama Power announced its third rate increase this year to go in effect in January.

According to NBC15 in Mobile:

This one will begin on your January bill and -- with the previous two increases -- amounts to a roughly $22/month increase in your bill over the last 6 months.

As power bills go up, what is going down behind the scenes? Here is how Forbes describes it:

Now the anonymous documents we, the CDLU, received show that the utility wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars on AstroTurf groups allegedly paid through Matrix and authorized by Zeke Smith, Alabama Power Executive Vice President of External Affairs.

This is apparently on top of the more than $2 million a year the utility funneled to the obscure political consulting firm Matrix and its founder Sloppy Joe Perkins.

Kim Adams of the AstroTurf entity Job Keepers Alliance allegedly was paid $4,500 a month through December of 2020 while another front group named PURE was allegedly paid an additional $3,500 a month.

As previously reported, the discredited Alabama Political Reporter (APR) publication received [$120,000 in 2020] to allegedly write smear pieces against us, the CDLU, our Chief Executive Officer, K.B. Forbes, and this blog. Alabama Power also allegedly boosted and promoted APR’s Facebook posts on the smear pieces.

The behind-the-scenes payments, when combined with the rate increases, generates a foul odor, Forbes contends:

Millions generated with three rate hikes in one year, yet Alabama Power/Southern Company has also wasted millions on an alleged criminal enterprise that was used to allegedly intimidate, harass, threaten, and smear perceived enemies, their families, and their children.

In some cases, Alabama Power allegedly targeted individuals who had no business, no function, no relationship with the utility.

Friends of friends and distant acquaintances of Alabama Power executives appear to have been able to waste the utility’s resources on despicable acts that had no legitimate business purpose whatsoever.

According to the anonymously revealed documentation, several entities received generous monthly payments above their original contracts.

Millions wasted for such foolishness!

No wonder disgraced Alabama Power CEO Mark A. Crosswhite was forced to resign, sugar-coated as a retirement. More heads need to roll, swiftly and with no remorse.

Monday, December 12, 2022

A former partner is disbarred and a former associate becomes a registered sex offender as grim news continues to flow from Balch & Bingham law firm


Chase Espy

Grim news keeps pouring forth from Birmingham's Balch & Bingham law firm. The latest? A former partner has been disbarred, and a former associate is now a registered sex offender.

K.B. Forbes, CEO of the CDLU public charity and advocacy group and publisher of its banbalch.com blog, has details:

The collapse of embattled law firm Balch & Bingham, the sister-wife of Alabama Power, continues.

The Alabama Supreme Court has disbarred ex-Balch partner Joel I. Gilbert based on his federal conviction in the North Birmingham Bribery Trial on six criminal charges including money laundering and bribery.

Last week, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) requested a certified copy of the indictment, petition/complaint, and disposition of the state case against ex-Balch partner Chase T. Espy for their Sex Offender Registry.

Espy pled guilty to federal charges of possession of child pornography in October. The state case involved the online solicitation of a child for sex.

 On top of that, Balch's efforts to rebuild its image have fallen mostly flat, writes Forbes:

Balch, which has a dubious record on matters of race, has tried to rehabilitate its image by hiring people of color. Unfortunately, some of them have left the embattled firm only months after being hired.

According to a recent review of Balch’s website, people of color account for less than 7 percent of their professionals and only 2 percent of their partners.

Meanwhile, Managing Partner Stan Blanton is patting himself on the back with make-believe awards for “diversity and inclusion. “

The only diversity and inclusion the firm appears to have are prisoners, pimps, prostitutes, and pedophiles.

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Documents surface that appear to confirm Alabama Power's ties to dubious acts, raising new questions about vehicle crash that nearly killed Burt Newsome

The crash involving attorney Burt Newsome.

Newly revealed signed documents and financial records appear to confirm a dubious enterprise involving Alabama Power and Southern Company. Does that include connections to a head-on vehicle crash that nearly killed Birmingham-area attorney Burt Newsome in September 2020? K.B. Forbes, CEO of the CDLU public charity and advocacy group, raises that issue and more in a post today at banbalch.com.

What do the anonymously revealed records show? For one, Mark Crosswhite has retired as Alabama Power CEO, but a major clean-up chore remains for Southern Company chief Tom Fanning. Writes Forbes:

Now that Crosswhite has been ousted, Southern Company CEO Tom Fanning needs to clean house starting with “Sloppy Joe” Perkins and his obscure political consulting firm, Matrix.

Perkins’ signature is on documents in which Jeff Peoples of Alabama Power paid him mid-five figures to allegedly terrorize Burt Newsome, his young twins, his entire family.

Why would Peoples, Alabama Power Executive Vice President of Customer and Employee Services, be involved in such alleged acts? Why would a utility company entangle itself in an enterprise that appears to include terrorizing innocent children and families?

The mid five-figures given to Sloppy Joe is on top of the more than $2 million paid to Perkins and his entities yearly, allegedly without the need for an invoice.

The documents involving Perkins are curious in other ways, Forbes writes:

Although described as involving “transportation,” the obscure and vague contract appears to confirm the alleged dirty deeds tied to Matrix.

Transportation services and trade secrets seem to be synonymous with dirty deeds and acts of terror.

That brings us to the Burt Newsome vehicle crash, which certainly could come under the heading of "transportation." And it came on the heels of other attacks on Newsome. Writes Forbes:

With Alabama Power allegedly spending hundreds of thousands through Matrix to allegedly smear Newsome falsely on a website as a rapist in July and August of 2020,  there is not much left to stretch when looking at the alleged crime of attempted murder against Burt Newsome that occurred on September 11, 2020.

Newsome was injured in a head-on crash two weeks after the smear website went live.

He was gravely injured and nearly killed. Some even claimed the crash was an alleged intentional act to silence Newsome, who is the lead attorney in ex-Drummond executive David Roberson’s $75-million civil lawsuit against Alabama Power’s sister-wife Balch  & Bingham, and Drummond Company.

The other driver reportedly works for Norfolk Southern, a long-time business partner of Alabama Power and Drummond.

A photo taken at the scene appears to show, oddly, that the other driver in the green Ford Explorer, who made a left turn in front of Newsome,  turned right when Newsome attempted to swerve around him.

Currently, the Roberson case is under seal in a secret Star Chamber. The sealed proceedings could be hiding, obscuring, and concealing a variety of misconduct.

That brings us to the peculiar judicial machinery that long has operated in the Birmingham area:

Ironically, one of the highest campaign contributors to the judge presiding over the Roberson case is the illustrious Andrew “Andy2K” Campbell, who incredibly represents Sloppy Joe, Matrix and Balch.  (Campbell donated $3,000. Maybe he should now be called Andy3K.)

Before the case was sealed,  Alabama Power and Crosswhite were in sheer panic and vigorously fought to have protective orders approved.

The rebirth of the North Birmingham Bribery Trial appears to be a grave threat to Alabama Power.

Before the case was sealed in 2021, was Alabama Power trying to intimidate Newsome?

Everything we, the CDLU, have received is being turned over to the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, including “Sloppy Joe’s "trade secrets."

Fanning must terminate the Oompa Loompa of Alabama politics, Sloppy Joe, and clean house.

The Crosswhite era is over, and the posse loyal to him needs to be removed like a spreading cancer.