Wednesday, July 27, 2022

As America simmers under a blistering heat wave, Alabama-based Matrix LLC leads a multi-state attack on clean-energy efforts to address climate change


U.S. power companies are secretly spending millions to protect profits and fight clean energy, according to a report from The Guardian. The story has strong connections to Alabama and Florida, with Montgomery-based consulting firm Matrix LLC in the middle of the intrigue. Alabama Power also makes an appearnce. As The Guardian states in a sub-headline: "One industry consulting firm has influenced politics across Florida, Alabama and at least six other states." That is a reference to Matrix. Here are details:

The CEO of the biggest power company in the US had a problem. A Democratic state senator was proposing a law that could cut into Florida Power & Light’s (FPL) profits. Landlords would be able to sell cheap rooftop solar power directly to their tenants – bypassing FPL and its monopoly on electricity.

“I want you to make his life a living hell … seriously,” FPL’s CEO Eric Silagy wrote in a 2019 email to two of his vice-presidents about state Senator José Javier Rodríguez, who proposed the legislation.

“I want you to make his life a living hell … seriously,” FPL’s CEO Eric Silagy wrote in a 2019 email to two of his vice-presidents about state Senator José Javier Rodríguez, who proposed the legislation.

Within minutes, one of them forwarded the directive to the CEO of Matrix, LLC, a powerful but little-known political consulting firm that has operated behind the scenes in at least eight states.

Rodríguez was ousted from office in the next election. Matrix employees spent heavily on political advertisements for a candidate with the same last name as Rodríguez, who split the vote. That candidate later admitted he was bribed to run.

Hundreds of pages of internal documents – which are only coming to light now because Matrix’s founders are locked in an epic feud – detail the firm’s secret work to help power companies like FPL protect their profits and fight the transition to cleaner forms of energy.

This story is particularly timely as many Americans bake under an unrelenting heat wave:

The Matrix saga illustrates the political obstacles policymakers and experts face as they attempt to cut climate pollution from the power sector, one of the biggest greenhouse gas contributors in the US.

The ongoing clash between Matrix’s founder Joe Perkins, 72, and former CEO Jeff Pitts, 51, is exposing the firm’s decades of extensive influence peddling on behalf of utility clients.

The issue extends to several states. Records obtained by Floodlight and the Orlando Sentinel show that Matrix consulted for FPL, as well as another Florida company, Gulf Power, and Alabama Power. Matrix affiliated groups have also worked to advance power companies’ interests in Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, and in front of the Environmental Protection Agency, public records show.

In Florida, Matrix’s work touched almost every level of politics, from influencing local mayoral and county commission elections to combating attempts to reshape the state constitution. In each of those cases, Matrix was working against politicians or policies fighting to curb the climate crisis by encouraging renewable power.

As Birmingham-based has reported, along with Legal Schnauzer, Matrix's tactics can get alarming. (Here is  link to a Ban Balch report on The Guardian story.) Writes The Guardian

Matrix employees had a Jacksonville journalist spied on after he wrote critically about FPL. And in 2020, Matrix even harnessed the power of the press for itself, when its employees acquired control of The Capitolist, a Tallahassee-based political news site which it used for favorable coverage, leaked records show.

“I find this to be horrifying and undemocratic,” said Gianna Trocino Bonner, former chief legislative aide for Rodríguez, after reviewing some of the leaked documents. “It’s unfortunate that our process allows for something like this to exist without accountability.”

As it turns out, Big Power can have more than one meaning:

Big power companies operate as monopolies with captive customers in much of the south-east US. They are supposed to be closely regulated, but their profits and unchecked political spending makes them some of the most powerful entities in a state.

Howard Crystal, an attorney for the environmental group Center for

Biological Diversity, said that US utilities are allowed monopoly power “because they are supposed to expand the public interest.

“[But] now we have this incredible corruption and a reversal of that because they are using their advantage to hang on to power and undermine democracy,” he said.

So far, there have been two criminal investigations into the campaign against Rodríguez and another Democratic state senate candidate, leading to charges against five people, though authorities have not accused Matrix or FPL of wrongdoing.

The report dives into the feud between Joe Perkins and Jeff Pitts:

Matrix’s principal, Perkins, says he discovered only after Pitts left the firm that he and other now-former employees had been conducting “shadow activities and operations” dating back to 2016. He is suing Pitts in Alabama for fraud and conspiracy.

“For many years and without my knowledge or approval, Pitts abused his power and position to benefit himself and his cronies,” Perkins said in a statement. “Upon realizing the extent of Pitts’s shadow operations and abuses of power, we filed our lawsuit against Pitts and those few rogue employees.”

Pitts, who left Matrix in December 2020 to start his own firm, Canopy Partners, did not respond to a request for comment by deadline. He is also suing Perkins, alleging defamation and extortion. A spokesperson for FPL said it stopped working with Canopy in late 2021.

In many ways this is a story of hard-ball politics:

FPL’s CEO Silagy in a recent interview denied knowing about or participating in the scheme against Rodríguez but said that Matrix had done “good work” for his company. Records show FPL trusted Matrix operatives with millions, including giving $14m to a single Matrix-run nonprofit in 2018 alone.

Silagy said the email in which he told his team to make Rodríguez’s life “a living hell” was “a poor choice of words.”

In Florida, FPL and Matrix demonstrated how a utility and its consultants can work in tandem to resist clean energy reforms. FPL deployed lobbyists to the capital, while Matrix hired private investigators to dig for dirt and had operatives funnel dark money and order attack ads.

Few examples are clearer than the case of South Miami. When the small south Florida city’s mayor helped pass an ordinance in 2017 mandating rooftop solar panels on new construction, a network of 10 FPL-aligned operatives mobilized to ensure his ouster.

The team decided an effort to repeal the ordinance would probably fail. So they opted instead for “Mayor Stoddard’s electoral defeat and changing the makeup of the board”, according to a 2018 memo from Dan Newman, a Matrix contractor who was similarly involved in the campaign against Rodríguez.

Along with a private investigator, the group delved into Stoddard’s past for episodes to weaponize against him, such as a South Miami commissioner’s claim on Facebook that Stoddard had forcibly kissed her. Documents show Matrix operatives arranged for the commissioner to record a robocall in which she called Stoddard “a creep”. Pitts at the time forwarded a draft of the script to two FPL executives. Newman in his memo also took credit for a Miami Herald story about the allegation.

An organization that acts like a mafia should be treated like one,” Stoddard said.

From the beginning, Matrix showed no aversion to unsavory political tactics. In 1998, the firm distributed copies of a video in which a sex worker falsely alleged she had been sexually assaulted by a candidate for lieutenant governor. The sex worker later testified the allegations were untrue, and that she had been paid by a Birmingham businessman to make them.

In 2015, Matrix distributed fliers for a suspicious charity in a predominantly Black neighborhood in North Birmingham. The fliers warned residents not to let the Environmental Protection Agency test their soil for the presence of contaminants left by a coal plant.

Friday, July 15, 2022

Feds receive briefing on alleged money-laundering scheme that could involve up to $50 million; is Steve Feaga set to re-enter picture re: Balch & Bingham?

Federal investigators have been briefed on an alleged money-laundering scheme involving $50 million and 18 tax-exempt entities, according to a report at In a related development, sources are telling Publisher K.B. Forbes that former Balch & Bingham chief compliance officer (CCO) Steve Feaga has drawn the interest of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Regarding the money-laundering briefing, Forbes writes: 

Alabama Power has secretly paid millions to the embattled political consulting firm Matrix, LLC and its founder “Sloppy Joe” Perkins who sloppily outlined alleged criminal misconduct spanning more than a decade in a since-deleted post on on June 30.

We, the CDLU, have briefed federal investigators on the alleged money laundering of more than $50 million using 18 tax-exempt 501 (c) 4 entities. These tax-exempt entities are designed to be “social welfare organizations” and must operate primarily to further the common good and general welfare of the people of the community.

We are sure that funneling money to “ghost candidates” in Florida and other alleged dirty deeds do not further the common good.

What is at the heart of these allegations? Forbes explains:

“Sloppy Joe” Perkins . . . apparently let his ego get the best of him. Perkins . . .  is in the middle of a brutal and ugly two-state legal battle with his once-protégé “Jittery Jeff” Pitts.

A much-needed federal probe of this matter could enhance the alleged ongoing obstruction of justice probe of Alabama Power CEO and Chairman (and former Balch partner) Mark A. Crosswhite.

This appears to involve big names in Alabama legal and business circles. It also involves an eye-popping financial figure -- and Forbes provides context:

The North Birmingham Bribery Scandal involved less than $400,000 in money laundering. What will the feds find in the more than $50 million in transactions since 2010?

Balch & Bingham and sister-wife Alabama Power appear to have relied on the “strategic” services of Matrix and Joe Perkins for decades.

Will the latest developments engulf the Three Stooges (Alabama Power, Balch, and Drummond Company) and bring to light the alleged “don’t ask, just cut the check” bribery ring?

Who will be the first to sing? Billy Canary? Trey Glenn? Lance Brown?

As for Feaga, he was ousted at Balch after two years as the firm's CCO, with no replacement named. Now, his name is coming up again, writes Forbes:

With nothing done in those two years, we called Feaga’s appointment the greatest act of window dressing.

His work at Balch ran parallel to the North Birmingham Bribery Trial.

That, of course, raises a host of questions, as Forbes spells out:

Does Feaga know about the alleged secret deal to keep Alabama Power “unmentionable” during the trial? Does Feaga have inside information about the inappropriate meeting at the Moon Shine Lounge between disgraced ex-U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town and the CEO of Alabama Power, Mark A. Crosswhite? Does he have a keen understanding how Matrix, LLC and attorney Mark White were utilized to allegedly protect Crosswhite and Alabama Power?

Is Feaga now, today providing insight in the alleged ongoing federal investigation of obstruction of justice involving Balch’s sister-wife Alabama Power?

A second source confirmed in the past 24 hours that something is happening with Feaga and the U.S. Department of Justice.

Judge Abdul K. Fallon, who presided over the North Birmingham Bribery Trial, gave his notice of resignation unexpectedly on April 6, 2022. A day later, two Assistant U.S. Attorneys allegedly also gave notice of their resignations. The following week, Balch partner Bo Lineberry committed suicide, allegedly due to financial troubles.

Now Feaga, who has been off the grid for two and a half years, is a person of interest.

Interesting. Interesting to say the least.

Friday, July 8, 2022

Joe Perkins' fiery statement about Matrix LLC and its two-state legal battles with former CEO Jeff Pitts has vanished. How in the world did that happen?

Joe Perkins

The heated statement that Joe Perkins, founder of Montgomery-based Matrix LLC, issued last week has disappeared from its original spot on the Web. What gives? K.B. Forbes addresses that question and related issues in a breaking story this afternoon at Writes Forbes, under the headline "Breaking News: Rambling Statement Deleted! Who Reined in “Sloppy Joe? has deleted the rambling, disconnected statement from Matrix founder and political consultant “Sloppy Joe” Perkins that was posted on June 30, 2022.

As we wrote three days ago, the statement foolishly outlined alleged criminal misconduct involving 18 entities and the alleged money laundering of over $50 million since 2010.

Perkins appeared to falsely allege that we, the CDLU, were involved in a conspiracy with news site and a cavalier dog rescuer to defame him in his ongoing, two-state divorce with his once-protégé “Jittery Jeff” Pitts. Perkins appeared to have threatened to file a SLAPP lawsuit (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) against the CDLU.

We, the CDLU, are letting federal authorities know about the allegations and are providing them copies of the statement. According to Perkins’ statement, nearly a million digital files were recovered.

Now the million-dollar question is, who reined in “Sloppy Joe?”

Was it Mark A. Crosswhite, the CEO at Alabama Power? Was it his lawyer “Andy2K” Campbell who also represents Balch & Bingham? Was it criminal attorney Mark White at White, Arnold & Dowd? 

Here is another question with no clear answer: What was Perkins thinking when he released the statement? Writes Forbes:

Without a doubt, the statement by “Sloppy Joe” appears to have been more detrimental than helpful  (to Matrix). We, the CDLU, were obligated to add the adverb “allegedly” numerous times to the accusations made.

Others could possibly sue “Sloppy Joe” and/or for defamation based on the raw statement.

While the Oompa Loompa of Alabama politics may have finally been calmed down and reined in, the rambling statement is not lost and is now available for all eternity on the Wayback Machine, an Internet archive portal.