Thursday, January 26, 2023

Florida Power & Light chief Eric Silagy follows Alabama Power's Mark Crosswhite out the door in the wake of scandals tied to Matrix LLC of Montgomery

Eric Silagy, of Florida Power & Light (AP)

The head of Florida's main electric company is stepping down in the wake of reports about the firm's ties to the Matrix LLC consulting firm of Montgomery, AL, according to a report from Associated Press (AP) and The Washington Post. The report comes roughly two months after Alabama Power CEO Mark Crosswhite, who has longstanding ties to Matrix, announced he would retire, effective at the end of December 2022. That announcement came after a series of scandals -- many tied to Matrix, Birmingham's Balch & Bingham law firm, or related entities -- caused a cloud to form over Crosswhite's tenure.

The report on Florida Power & Light (FPL) and CEO Eric Silagy reveals a number of parallels with events at Alabama Power. From the AP report by Terry Spencer:

The leader of Florida’s primary electric company, which has been embroiled in controversy over allegations that it backed sham election candidates and spied on a journalist, will be stepping down next month, it was announced this week.

Florida Power & Light’s parent company, NextEra Energy, announced that CEO Eric Silagy will step down Feb. 15 and then retire in May after assisting his successor, Armando Pimentel, through the transition. Pimentel, a top executive at NextEra, is taking over a company that serves about 5 million Florida homes and businesses, or about half the state. . . . 

“It has been an honor and privilege to lead the FPL team for more than a decade,  and I couldn’t be more proud of the accomplishments we have delivered to our customers and the state of Florida,” he said in a statement. There is no indication in the statement he was stepping down because of the allegations.

But FPL has been under scrutiny since last year after the Orlando Sentinel and the Florida Times-Union were leaked documents, texts, and emails from a political consulting firm the company hired. The newspapers charged that the consulting company, Matrix LLC, went after politicians FPL opposed and secretly took over a Florida political news website and used it to give the company favorable coverage. It also spied on Times-Union columnist Nate Monroe, who had written critically of the company’s bid to buy Jacksonville’s municipal electric company.

How did FPL, and Matrix, alter Florida's political landscape to attack candidates who met with disfavor from the power company? Spencer provides an example:

In one case, Democratic State Sen. José Javier Rodríguez angered FPL by proposing a bill that would have eaten into its profits.

In a 2019 email chain obtained by the Sentinel, Silagy tells two of his vice presidents, “I want you to make (Rodriguez’s) life a living hell.” The vice presidents forwarded the email to Matrix. In the 2020 election, Matrix spent heavily supporting the independent candidacy of a Rodriguez opponent with the same last name. He siphoned votes away as Rodriguez lost his reelection bid. The opponent, who had never shown any political interest, later admitted he was bribed to run.

Other similar mystery candidates popped up elsewhere in the state to run against FPL critics, all getting support from Matrix. While others involved in those campaigns have been charged with election-related crimes, no one from FPL or Matrix has been.

Silagy told the Sentinel he used a “poor choice of words” in his email, but denied that he or the company ever directed Matrix to do anything illegal. Matrix blamed a former CEO and former employees who it said acted without ownership’s knowledge.

NextEra Energy, FPL's parent company, conducted an internal investigation that found FPL should now be in the clear, reports Spencer:

In a Securities and Exchange Commission filing Wednesday, NextEra said its investigation into Sentinel and Times-Union’s allegations “is substantially complete” and “based on information in our possession, we believe that FPL would not be found liable for any of the Florida campaign finance law violations.” It also says it believes FPL will be cleared of federal elections code violations.

Jacksonville journalist Nate Monroe, having been a Matrix target, likely would not paint such a rosy picture:

In Monroe’s file, there were 72 pages of information on him and his family — including a surreptitious photo of him and his wife walking their dog near their home.

A Matrix spy even appeared to follow him to a wedding hundreds of miles away. In a text to an FPL executive, the spy showed glee when Monroe tweeted that he was getting drunk at the reception (Monroe has said he was being “facetious”). The spy later that night used a sad-faced emoji when he reported back to the executive that Monroe took an Uber to his hotel instead of driving. The former Matrix CEO complained to FPL that Monroe’s personal life is “boring.”

“I believe it is fair to detect an undercurrent of hostility in these records,” Monroe wrote in a column.

Internal Matrix documents were distributed to a number of news outlets when company founder Joe Perkins and former CEO Jeff Pitts engaged in a bitter lawsuit that crossed state lines, from Florida into Alabama. The lawsuit ultimately settled, but the Matrix documents apparently remain in the possession of several journalists.


Anonymous said...

WSJ is about to do a massive expose. Buckle up:

legalschnauzer said...

Thanks for sharing. Watkins is an important voice on this story. He's had personal dealings with Matrix in the form of a defamation lawsuit, which was handled in a peculiar (unlawful?) way by a judge, and Ban Balch recently broke the story that the Watkins criminal trial was a sham. Who might have been operating behind the scenes on that one, making sure Alabama's broken judiciary (state and federal) performs more poorly than it's already abominably poor standards.

Also, it's been shown in court documents that "Luv Guv" Robert Bentley sought to unlawfully use state and federal criminal data bases to discredit Watkins (and me) for our accurate reporting on the "Luv Guv" sex scandal with a senior aide. Watkins and I, in fact broke the story and wrote in-depth on over a seven-month period when the Alabama MSM would not touch it.

We've learned that Bentley has a number of ties to Balch & Bingham, and Alabama Power, which would almost certainly give him access to Matrix's arsenal of "dirty tricks." Bentley has been largely overlooked in what might be called the Alabama Power/Southern Company scandal, but that might be changing soon.

Anonymous said...

RICO filed:

legalschnauzer said...

Thanks for sharing @4:27. Another important development in this story.

legalschnauzer said...

It looks like Watkins has filed a criminal RICO complaint. I wonder if he plans to file a civil complaint. The law allows for both.

legalschnauzer said...

From --

Civil RICO vs. Criminal RICO

A civil plaintiff will still have to prove the basic elements required in the RICO statute to prove a claim, including a person, an enterprise engaged in or affecting interstate commerce, pattern of racketeering activity, the operation and management test, and the through requirement. Although the standard of proof in a civil action is based upon a preponderance of the evidence, the civil RICO plaintiff must additionally prove “causation,” injury to business or property, and that he or she is subject to a more complicated statute of limitations. Also, in a civil racketeering action alleging fraud, the claim must be pleaded with particularity.