Monday, March 13, 2023

Watkins: Deaths of Alabama Power exec Matthew Bowden and Balch lawyer "Bo" Lineberry are linked to Southern Co. scandal as more documents surface about schemes to avoid paying for pollution clean up

Steve McKinney email to Matthew Bowden

The investigative efforts of longtime Alabama attorney Donald Watkins have produced a cache of documents on the evolving Southern Company accounting-fraud scandal. The story already was alarming, but we see signs that the Watkins documents might take it in explosive, even disturbing, new directions. A post Sunday at focuses on alleged acts of bribery and includes an email that suggests this scandal has been much uglier than previously imagined.

At least two deaths now appear to be linked to the Southern Company scandal. The email in question was from Steve McKinney, one of two Balch & Bingham attorneys indicted in the North Birmingham Superfund Bribery Case, to Matthew Bowden, who then was senior vice president and general counsel at Alabama Power. Indictments for McKinney and fellow Balch attorney Joel Gilbert, plus Drummond Company executive David Roberson, were handed down on Sept. 28, 2017.

Matthew Bowden
 Bowden, the recipient of McKinney's email about the Alliance for Jobs and the Economy (AJE) -- which has been described as a "money laundering entity' for paying bribes to former State Rep. Oliver Robinson (D-Birmingham) -- died less than two weeks after the North Birmingham indictments were released. Bowden was 52 years old, reportedly highly regarded in both his professional and personal lives, and his death was described as unexpected. reported that he died from "complications of an ankle injury." reports that Bowden died "following his hospitalization for a minor ailment."

How does a seemingly healthy 52-year-old male die from a minor ankle injury? At first glance, that does not make sense. But in a post titled "Anatomy of a Southern Company Bribery Scheme", Watkins provides details surrounding Oct. 11, 2017, the date of Bowden's death:

As part of their sweeping racketeering scheme, the Southern Company and its affiliates used a variety of bribery and money-laundering schemes to capture and control utility regulators, state and federal lawmakers, and a host of other public officials.

One of these schemes involved the bribery of former Alabama state Representative Oliver Robinson in 2015 and 2016. On September 7, 2017, Robinson pled guilty to receiving $360,000 in bribes.

This particular bribery scheme is embedded in an email exchange between Steve McKinney, a former partner at Balch & Bingham, LLP, in Birmingham, and Matthew Bowden, Alabama Power’s then-general counsel on May 17-18, 2015.

The entity that was established in 2015 to fund the bribery of Oliver Robinson was called the "Alliance for Jobs and the Economy" (AJE). It was an Alabama Power Company-inspired creation.

McKinney explained to Bowden that AJE was the entity that former Alabama Power CEO Mark Crosswhite "preferred" to deal with the company's North Birmingham Superfund clean-up problem in 2015.

In his March 18, 2015 email, McKinney told Bowden that AJE is the “special purpose 501-c-6 entity Mark [Crosswhite] preferred over having BBA [Birmingham Business Alliance] respond to EPA’s expanded Superfund theories and GASP’s Toxic City campaign. The Alliance for Jobs and the Economy.”

In other words, bribing Oliver Robinson, who is black and who was willing to sell out the black residents of North Birmingham, was Alabama Power's preferred solution for defeating an initiative by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to designate this black neighborhood as a Superfund clean-up site.

The Superfund designation would have forced the industrial polluters who poisoned the air, ground, and water in this poor black neighborhood to clean it up at their corporate expense. The polluters were longtime networking partners and political allies of Alabama Power Company.

Matthew Bowden’s email address at the time was The Southern Company headquarters in Atlanta monitored the email traffic of its affiliates, especially emails dealing with environmental matters.

Bowden died unexpectedly on October 11, 2017, following his hospitalization for a minor ailment.

Mike Godfrey, Alabama Power’s general manager for environmental affairs, was copied on McKinney's March 17 and 18, 2015, emails. He, too, had a Southern Company email address.

This indicates officials at Southern Company had reason to know about the McKinney-Bowden communication. Was someone in authority disturbed about the information McKinney had shared with Bowden?

What about the other death? That involves Balch & Bingham attorney William Dice "Bo" Lineberry, writes Watkins:

In April 2022, Balch & Bingham attorney William Dice Lineberry committed suicide. Lineberry helped set up the money-laundering entity (AJE) that was used to: (a) receive corporate donations from Alabama Power and other willing participants in the bribery scheme and (b) funnel more than $360,000 in bribery money to Oliver Robinson.

Watkins provides more background about entities surrounding the North Birmingham scandal:

McKinny's reference to "GASP" is an acronym for “Greater-Birmingham Alliance to Stop Pollution.” This organization fought hard and smart against Alabama Power's unrelenting and toxic air pollution in the state.

On April 6, 2017, handwritten notes made by the Southern Company's retained crisis-management firm, Matrix, LLC, and its owner, Joe Perkins, designated GASP as one of four “natural enemies” of the Southern Company and Alabama Power. . . .

Alabama Power contributed $30,000 of the $360,000 in cash that was used to bribe Oliver Robinson. It also paid Balch & Bingham, the Southern Company's principal law firm, to set up the bribery fund.

McKinney’s March 17, 2015, email named eight "core group" companies that would contribute the money needed to bribe Oliver Robinson and denoted the status of their contributions. They were:

1. Drummond Company.... Committed

2. Thompson Tractor ......... Committed

3. ACIPCO........................... Committed

4. U.S. Steel......................... Firmly expected

5. Alabama Power............... Firmly expected

6. Nucor Steel..................... Expected

7. Protective Life Corp....... Firmly expected

8. Regions Bank.................. Expected . . .

Several Balch & Bingham attorneys also contributed money to the AJE fund. The law firm reportedly recaptured this money when Alabama Power paid Balch & Bingham’s inflated invoices.

Joe Perkins' April 6, 2017, handwritten notes highlighted a lot of the fraud schemes within the Southern Company, including inflated law-firm payments (for money laundering purposes), inappropriate corporate airplane usage (to compromise and corrupt politicians), personnel services (to bilk billions of dollars out of affiliates), shoddy engineering work on the Kemper, Mississippi and Vogtle construction projects (that resulted in $25 billion in cost overruns for these two projects, alone), and questionable accounting practices (across-the-board).

Much of this information never became public in the North Birmingham Bribery Trial. Watkins says there is a reason for that:

In 2018, Judge Abdul K. Kallon presided over the North Birmingham Bribery Trial in which Balch & Bingham law partner Joel I. Gilbert and Drummond Company executive David Roberson were charged with bribing Oliver Robinson.

Steve McKinney was indicted in the case, but criminal charges against him were dismissed by Judge Kallon during the trial after an FBI agent testified she may have misled the grand jury by implying that McKinney personally met with Oliver Robinson. Such an in-person meeting never happened.

As mentioned earlier, Oliver Robinson pled guilty early in the case and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors to develop evidence against other co-conspirators.

The criminal investigation in this case was supervised by Jay Town, then-U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, and Town's handpicked First Assistant U.S. Attorney, Lloyd Peeples. Both men are known “hustlers” who have checkered backgrounds.

Before Town gave him the First Assistant's job, Lloyd Peeples was a failed "Your Pie" pizza restaurant franchisee/operator in Homewood, Alabama. Peeples' restaurant operated for only 11 months before he closed its doors due to under-performing pizza sales.

During the trial of Joel I. Gilbert and David Roberson, Judge Kallon reportedly instructed defense counsel to avoid any mention of Alabama Power Company and its role in the bribery scheme without first clearing it with Alabama Power's criminal attorney, who monitored the trial daily for his client. This judicial instruction was bizarre, particularly in light of the fact that Alabama Power provided $30,000 of the $360,000 that was used to bribe Oliver Robinson.

Jay Town refused to charge Alabama Power or any of its top executives as co-conspirators in the case, despite substantial evidence that established their willingness to participate in the bribery and money-laundering scheme.

Drummond's general counsel, Blake Andrews, and at least 21 Balch & Bingham attorneys played a key role in the bribery scheme. Yet, Jay Town refused to charge these individuals as co-conspirators in the case.

Balch & Bingham is Alabama Power's main law firm. At one time, Mark Crosswhite was a partner in Balch & Bingham.

Jay Town actively steered the investigation away from Alabama Power, Crosswhite, and the other entities listed in McKinney’s March 17, 2015, email.

On June 5, 2020, Balch & Bingham began its representation of Southern Nuclear Operating Company in regulatory proceedings before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The law firm is tasked with the job of getting Units 3 and 4 at the Vogtle Nuclear Power Plant in Waynesboro, Georgia, commissioned and operational from a regulatory-compliance standpoint.

At no time since the Southern Company received its NRC license for Units 3 and 4 at Vogtle on February 10, 2012, has the company or any affiliate entity come clean with the NRC about the racketeering enterprise and accounting-fraud schemes they have run for more than a decade.

The reasons for concealing this criminal activity from the NRC is simple. The licenses for Units 3 and 4 contain this NRC agency finding: "The issuance of this license will not be inimical to the common defense and security or to the health and safety of the public." The NRC would likely rescind its license for Vogtle if the Commission subsequently determined that the Southern Company operated a racketeering enterprise and various accounting-fraud schemes.

This is especially true in light of the fact that the Southern Company's accounting-fraud schemes emanated, in large part, from the $21 billion in cost overruns associated with the construction of Vogtle Units 3 and 4.

Drummond is Alabama Power's longtime coal supplier. Evidence in the Gilbert and Roberson bribery case showed that Drummond CEO Mike Tracy personally approved payments to two ethically-conflicted consultants who lobbied the Alabama Department of Environmental Management to officially oppose the EPA clean-up initiative in North Birmingham. Yet, Jay Town refused to charge Drummond Company or Mike Tracy as co-conspirators in the case.

In 2018, Jay Town met with Mark Crosswhite at an obscure lounge where the two men chugged down cocktails amid mounting evidence that some of the companies listed on McKinney’s March 17, 2015 email, as well as their top executives, knowingly and willingly participated in the scheme to bribe Oliver Robinson.

After his meeting with Crosswhite, Jay Town decided to (a) portray Roberson and Gilbert as "lone wolves" in the bribery scheme, and (b) close the investigation, over the objections of career law-enforcement officials.

The various schemes to avoid being held accountable for the clean up of industrial pollution in North Birmingham seemingly have blown up on Southern Company and its affiliates. That has left plenty of fallout in its wake, reports Watkins:

After a surprise photograph surfaced in 2020 of Jay Town having cocktails with Mark Crosswhite in a festive celebration of Town's agreement to shield Alabama Power, Crosswhite, Drummond, Mike Tracy, Balch & Bingham, Blake Andrews, and the other corporate contributors on McKinney’s list from criminal charges in the case, Town abruptly resigned as U.S. Attorney.

Then-U.S. Senator Richard Shelby arranged a high paying general counsel's job for Town with Huntsville-based defense contractor Gray Analytics. Shelby was the longtime beneficiary of major campaign contributions from political action committees affiliated with the companies on McKinney’s list. Shelby is also the "hunting buddy" of Joe Perkins and Scott Coogler, the Chief U.S. District Court Judge for the Northern District of Alabama.

Mike Tracy took a sudden and unexpected early "retirement" from the Drummond Company, effective on October 31, 2019.. . .

. . . On April 7, 2022, two assistant U.S. Attorneys with reported connections to the Office's investigation of the North Birmingham Bribery Scheme reportedly resigned.

Judge Adbul Kallon resigned his lifetime federal judgeship on August 31, 2022, and moved to Seattle, Washington, to practice law at the Perkins Coie law firm. His resignation was sudden and unexpected.

On October 18, 2022, former Balch & Bingham partner Chase T. Espy pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography. On March 8, 2023, Espy was sentenced to eight years in prison.

At the end of his Sunday post, Watkins includes the following note:

[Author's Note: My news media group at has gained access to a treasure trove of documents and photographs that establish and detail the nature and scope of the Southern Company's racketeering enterprise and accounting-fraud schemes. These documents and photos will be published in connection with upcoming articles, to the extent necessary.]


legalschnauzer said...

A comment from Donald Watkins at his Facebook page --

Donald V. Watkins
The Southern Company maintains files with off-site private vendors on every public official who has accepted a bribe from them. We will publish some of the more disgusting bribery files.

legalschnauzer said...

Another comment from Donald Wtkins' Facebook page:

Donald V. Watkins
The Southern Company's Code of Ethics meant absolutely nothing to the company's top executives. Bribery is an accepted course of conduct for this company. They engage in repetitive acts of bribery with the realization that no federal prosecutor or judge in their six-state marketplace will stop them. The Southern Company views ALL PUBLIC OFFICIALS as political "whores" who can be bought and sold, at-will. They have no respect for any of them.

legalschnauzer said...

Here is a link to an interview with Donald Watkins about the latest in the Southern Company scandal. It's from, by David Meckley, of Dothan, AL