|The scene of Burt Newsome's vehicle crash|
Alabama Power Company and Montgomery-based Matrix LLC employ a "breathtaking range of dirty tricks" to control politicians, public officials, regulatory agencies, judges, law enforcement, and more, according to a report yesterday from former attorney/banker/entrepreneur Donald Watkins at his online news site.
How far could such "dirty tricks" go? Could they include the head-on vehicle crash (pictured above) that nearly took the life of Birmingham attorney Burt Newsome in September 2020? At that time, Newsome had become a courtroom adversary for Alabama Power, its "sister-wife" law firm Balch & Bingham, and fellow Balch client Drummond Company. He was leaving his office in north Shelby County one day when a large SUV hit him head-on, and as the photo above shows, the driver turned his wheels sharply right -- toward the driver's compartment -- just before impact, suggesting the crash was not an accident. Newsome wound up with a severely broken leg, requiring hours of surgery at UAB Hospital and implantation of a titanium rod.
Watkins himself has crossed swords with Alabama Power and Matrix LLC proprietor Joe Perkins in recent years and has written a number of revelatory and unflattering articles about them at his Web site. Watkins has seen his professional life blow up, and he now resides at FCI La Tuna, a Federal Bureau of Prison facility in Anthony, Texas. He was convicted in March 2019 of bank fraud, wire fraud, and conspiracy. Watkins has claimed he was targeted for his online reporting on hot-buttom topics, including the Robert Bentley-Rebekah Caldwell Mason affair, which led to Bentley's downfall as governor -- and a topic we covered extensively here at Legal Schnauzer.)
Were the criminal charges against Watkins legitimate or were they the result of his entanglement with powerful forces in Alabama? The answer to that question remains unclear, but this much is clear: As yesterday's article shows, Watkins has not been silenced.
He tags the article an "editorial opinion," under the headline "Dirty Secrets: The Joe Perkins File":
In January of 2022, Alabama Power company publicly confirmed what we have known for decades --Tuscaloosa, Alabama-based political operative Joe Perkins has run the company's "dirty tricks" program on an independent contractor basis for nearly two decades. Perkins and his companies have been paid millions of dollars during this period, without having to submit invoices to Alabama Power.
Perkins is known in Alabama for: (a) exploiting the weaknesses of local, state, and federal politicians, (b) facilitating clandestine activities that undermine the integrity of democratic institutions, and (c) capturing and controlling a litany of public officials and government regulators who have abandoned their affirmative duty to advance and protect the public interests.
Perkins recorded the fruits of his labor in secret files that he calls "trade secrets." I call them "dirty secrets."
On September 19, 2021, I published an article that featured an example of Perkins' secret files. The article disclosed Perkins' handwritten notes on his plan to destroy me after I published an exclusive series of investigative articles on the role Matrix, LLC, played in the 2015 reported rape case of University of Alabama honors student Megan Rondini. Matrix is Perkins' public relations and crisis management firm.
How do Alabama Power and Matrix LLC work together to maintain a chokehold on power in a Deep South state? Watkins provides examples:
Joe Perkins' clandestine work for Alabama Power has produced a closet full of "dirty secrets" that the company strategically deployed, as needed. Here are a few examples of the "dirty secrets" in this closet:
(1) Alabama Power Company learned that disgraced former Alabama governor Robert Bentley, another Tuscaloosa native, was having an illicit love affair with his married senior advisor, Rebekah Caldwell Mason from 2014 to 2017. Alabama Power reportedly facilitated the love affair by making its corporate jets available to transport Mason to her clandestine rendezvous with Bentley at exotic ports of call after Bentley's staff cautioned him about having Mason on the airplane the state made available for the governor's official business.
After Bentley's wife learned of the illicit affair, she initially refused to attend her husband's inauguration in January 2015. Alabama Power Company officials, who were complicit in the affair, interceded on the governor's behalf and pleaded with Mrs. Bentley to attend the inauguration for public relations purposes. Mrs. Bentley relented at the last minute and attended her husband's inauguration.
(2) After Bentley exited the governor's office, Perkins and his team of political operatives provided Alabama Power Company with the information they needed to capture and control incoming governor Kay Ivey. They learned that Governor Ivey had serious issues with her alcoholic consumption. According to Alabama Power's intelligence gathering reports, Governor Ivey would often start drinking on the job by noon each day.
(3) After Dr. Richard Arrington, Jr., left office as the city of Birmingham's first black mayor (1979-1999), Alabama Power launched an orchestrated political program to capture and control the mayor's office out of fear and insecurity about Arrington's successors in office. Alabama Power's large corporate headquarters is located within three blocks from Birmingham's City Hall.
From 1999 to the present, Alabama Power has viewed all of Arrington's successors in office as weak, lazy, and unqualified for an executive leadership position. For nearly two decades, one of Joe Perkins' primary jobs was to capture and control the men who succeeded Arrington. Perkins achieved this goal by using a combination of: (a) campaign fundraising activities, (b) arranging for their travel on the company's private jets, (c) lavishing VIP perks at entertainment and sporting events upon them, and (d) stroking of their political egos.
Watkins then turns to perhaps the most important job Perkins' has performed for Alabama Power -- in fact, it could be the most important job any political consultant can perform for a client:
(4) Capturing and controlling the state legislators and judges in Alabama is another area where the Perkins/Alabama Power team achieved great success. Alabama Power quickly discovered that the company could silence the voices of the state's entire political leadership with campaign donations, annual contributions from the company's charitable Foundation to pet projects in the black community and passing out trinkets of symbolic power to them. Alabama Power does not view these activities as "lobbying," even though they are the means and manner of controlling the official actions of these public officials.
Alabama Power's chokehold on black legislators and the state's lone black Congresswoman is so strong that none of them is permitted to complain about Alabama's 19-judge all-white appellate court system in a state with a 26% black voter registration population in 2022.
Sadly, Alabama Power's total philanthropic giving to worthy causes and organizations in the state's black community in past years has been less than the amount the company donates to take care of wildlife and zoo animals. Despite the fact that blacks contribute an estimated 25% of Alabama Power's $6 billion in annual revenues, the amount of contracting dollars the company spends with black-owned business is so abysmal that it does not amount to a blip in the company's annual financial statements.
In line with the control of judges is the extremely important matter of controlling law enforcement. Writes Watkins:
Alabama Power Company and Joe Perkins have been extremely effective in controlling federal law enforcement investigations in Alabama. Working with Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Alabama), they effectively decide who will serve as the three U.S. Attorneys in Alabama.
Alabama Power and Perkins have influenced law enforcement investigations and prosecutions of some of their political adversaries. They have also benefitted from a very liberal application of prosecutorial discretion in their favor by state and federal prosecutors in matters involving highly questionable business conduct.
Alabama Power first learned how to manipulate the federal law enforcement apparatus in the 1970s and 80s when the company battled former Alabama governor George C. Wallace after Wallace blocked a series of excessive rate increases on the company's customers. In 1972, Alabama Power lobbied President Richard Nixon to jail Wallace because of the former governor's pro-customer activism.
Nixon came close to ordering Wallace's prosecution in order to solidify Alabama Power's financial support during his 1972 re-election campaign. Nixon changed his mind about the criminal prosecution after Wallace announced that he was running for president that year as a Democrat. . . .
In recent years, Alabama Power showcased its control over state and federal prosecutors in Alabama. For example, in 2015, Alabama Power contributed $30,000 to the sham non-profit entity that was established to fund bribery payments to former state Rep. Oliver Robinson in exchange for his efforts to block the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from designating the 35th Avenue neighborhood in North Birmingham as a Super-Fund clean-up site.
Even though Alabama Power provided money for the bribery scheme, no company executive was indicted or prosecuted in connection with the bribery scheme. An executive with the Drummond Company, which supplies coal for Alabama Power's "dirty" power plants, and a lawyer with the Balch Bingham law firm, which represents Alabama Power, were subsequently charged, tried, and convicted of bribery in the case, along with Oliver Robinson.
Watkins closes his introductory article by hinting that he has many more insights coming on the way power is maintained and exercised in Alabama. He says it's a subject the state's citizens need to know more about, and we agree. Here are Watkins' own words about what lies ahead in his series:
Alabama Power, the Southern Company, and Georgia Power have substantially benefited from Joe Perkins' clandestine political activities. This work has enriched Perkins. These activities are sweeping in scope and shocking in nature. They speak volumes about Perkins' sway over politicians, government officials, regulatory agencies, law enforcement officials, and state and federal judges in Alabama and Georgia.
The public deserves to know how these public utility companies used ratepayers' money to finance a breathtaking range of "dirty tricks." Hopefully, the bright lights from my investigative reporting will disinfectant the dark and seedy world of Perkins' and Alabama Power's clandestine political activities.