How did Alabama's judiciary become such a cesspool, as we have reported in dozens of posts? (See here, here, here, here, and here.) That is a particularly timely question now as the Southern Company/Matrix scandal continues to unfold, with multiple powerful entities, including Alabama Power, the subject of complaints to federal agencies.
Longtime attorney and businessman Donald Watkins, who practiced law in Alabama for more than 40 years, provides a succinct answer to our question. The sorry state of Alabama courts -- at both the federal and state levels -- largely can be placed at the feet of former U..S. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL). That is troubling, considering Shelby's deep ties to entities -- Alabama Power, Southern Company, Matrix, Balch & Bingham -- now embroiled in a scandal that is drawing national media attention.
Shelby likely is at the heart of Watkins' own legal troubles, which saw him land in federal prison from 2019 to 2022 on fraud-related charges. Says Watkins:
I started writing about the power company, then I became the target. I fought like hell but I did not understand the full force they have. I was one of the few independent journalists in the state. I must be unbought and unbossed in the media world. I’ve always been outspoken; That makes you controversial in Alabama. I've been in law forever, I've had my own businesses, so they came after me. They wanted to silence my voice. Richard Shelby can pick up the phone and get anybody destroyed. And he and Joe Perkins, of Matrix, are hunting buddies. When you tell the truth now. . . people think, "I've got to destroy this person because I don't want the truth out there."
Richard Shelby is the only person to have the power to organize a blitzkrieg, where federal agencies come after you at the same time. The IRS came after me; they said I committed $13 million of fraud, and I paid taxes on what they call fraud proceeds. I never took a salary that I was authorized to have. I wanted to use that money to grow the company. But I'm the bad guy.
It started with an investor dispute, and I started the arbitration process, as I was required to do, but the investor took it to the U.S. attorney in New Jersey. The U.S. attorney said we've looked at all of this stuff, and they cleared me.
Shelby and his minions -- Jay Town and Lloyd Peeples -- got me indicted in Birmingham, and Alabama Power controls all of those people. You cannot be a federal judge or U.S. attorney in Alabama unless Richard Shelby supports you. You owe your position to Richard Shelby.
Jay Town was the one who, as U.S attorney in the Northern District of Alabama, made sure Alabama Power was not mentioned in the North Birmingham bribery trial -- even though the company gave $30,000 of the $360,000 in bribes that went to former State Rep. Oliver Robinson (D-Birmingham).
I know from higher ups that my case was rigged. I'm talking about good people in the courthouse and in Washington who let me know what was going on in real time. I don't want to say too much about that now because I’m still exhausting my criminal appeals. But that information will be coming out.
George Wallace was one of the few politicians who refused to jump in bed with Alabama Power, Watkins says:
Alabama is a very political state and has been for a long time. One company seemed to have a lock on all the politicians, all the judges, and all the regulatory entities. After George Wallace left office, Alabama Power went on a concerted program to buy or rent every elected official who they perceived. had any power that could impact their monopoly in the state. Alabama Power is the only power company in the nation that has a guaranteed minimum rate of net return of 5 percent on equity. The people who guarantee that rate are the taxpayers of Alabama. If the company's profits dip below 5 percent, taxpayers must kick in money to take them up to 5 percent.
Wallace had two pet peeves while he was in office – One was segregation yesterday, today, and forever -- and he later abandoned that. Two, he set up a division in the governor's office that fought rate increases for the power company. They could not stand George Wallace and tried to get Richard Nixon to indict him. The idea of trying to put your perceived political enemies in prison started with George Wallace.
How does Alabama Power maintain its tight grip on the state? Watkins explains:
Today, Alabama Power controls politicians in several ways: It has a healthy foundation that will contribute to your pet project if you don’t question anything they do; Next, is campaign fundraising, they can deliver real money very quickly. Also, they control the Public Service Commission; Third, they control politicians with Matrix. It's supposed to be a public-relations or political-consulting firm. In reality, Matrix conducts dirty tricks against perceived enemies of Alabama Power. Joe Perkins is a confessed law breaker, but he's been on the Alabama political landscape for more than 40 years.
What the public did not know is that the success Alabama Power achieved in Alabama was replicated in Georgia. Alabama Power is an affiliate of Southern Company, which is a New York Stock Exchange company. We knew Southern Company not only was aware of Matrix's activities, they were blessing it. This was company policy. They basically controlled the regional office of the United States Security and Exchange Commission. More recently, we then learned, through Matrix, they were buying positive media in Florida for Florida Power & Light and NextEra Energy. That scheme got exposed last year in Florida because of reports on ghost candidates and money laundering. That whole scheme of controlling the news cycle blew up on Florida utilities because the company conducting dirty tricks in Florida was based in Alabama. And Matrix had secret contracts and got paid millions of dollars. from a publicly traded company without invoices or written reports, and this went on for decades.
I did the HealthSouth case and saw how fraud is done by lax oversight. When everyone fails to do their jobs, it happens When regulators are compromised, it happens, When a federal prosecutor has no balls, it happens. When a state attorney general is busy fighting windmills, it happens. When everyone fails to enforce the law, and media organizations have been bought off, it happens.
Where is the Southern Company scandal headed? Watkins has ideas:
Jeff Pitts, in litigation with Joe Perkins, accused Matrix of using a RICO enterprise in September 2021. Abusing the legal system is racketeering conduct; engaging in criminality as a business enterprise is racketeering. My son and I were victims of obstruction of justice, fabricated evidence. Chris Womack is about to become the CEO of Southern Company in March. My advice to him is: Make these people flush their own toilets that they've defected in. Let them flush their own feces that they've left everywhere. If you don’t do that, it will be on you and your watch.
Southern Company is in bad trouble. They can’t come clean with their shareholders. They don't have to worry about the mainstream media because they own them. And every month, al.com is paid not to write anything negative about Alabama Power.
If you want a non-prosecution agreement, you usually say, "Don’t indict me as an organization because it will hurt my stock," so you throw someone overboard. That usually is accompanied by having a few people prosecuted. If anybody is indicted in this case, I think it might be Perkins, Matrix, Crosswhite, and maybe Jay Town on the North Birmingham bribery case.
My goal is to hold these people accountable. Personally, I don't want a racketeering enterprise to be running a nuclear power plant in America. They have that in Russia. Why do we need that in the United States? The Southern Company and its affiliates aren't the only ones qualified to own or operate a nuclear power plant. There are non-racketeering companies that have the qualifications to do it. We want to make sure these people are fit. You wouldn't want the Gambino family to operate a nuclear power plant, so why would you let Southern Company run it?