By: Donald V. Watkins
March 27, 2022
An Editorial Opinion
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.
Rondini committed suicide after Tuscaloosa County law enforcement officials failed to prosecute the local playboy she designated as the rape suspect in her case. The suspect's family was a wealthy member of the oligarchy that ran Tuscaloosa at the time. Buzzfeed reporter, Katie Baker, in part reported on law enforcement’s failure to prosecute this case which resulted in two Tuscaloosa County law enforcement personnel filing a defamation case against the reporter. An Alabama federal judge threw out the case on March 15, 2022.
A Closet Full of "Dirty Secrets"
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.
The public learned about the Bentley-Mason secret love affair in my 2015 exclusive series of investigative articles titled, "Forbidden Love" and "Executive Betrayal." In April of 2017, Bentley was forced to resign from office because of his "sex-for-power" scandal with Rebekah Mason. Immediately after resigning, Bentley pleaded guilty to violating state ethics laws.
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 a 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.
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.
5. Working with deceased Alabama gambling magnate Milton McGregor, Alabama Power and its strategic business allies demonstrated the company's ability to silence AL.com reporters when they shamed Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter/columnist John Archibald by "outing" the bankruptcy filing he and his wife made in a Birmingham federal court. Archibald never disclosed his shaky personal finances while he was chastising the Jefferson County Commission in his opinion columns for its financial mismanagement.
John Archibald was discombobulated by the unexpected public disclosure of his bankrupt personal financial condition. He initially lied about his situation and blamed his wife for filing the bankruptcy petition without consulting with him. After Archibald realized that filing a husband-wife bankruptcy petition under those circumstances would subject his wife to culpability for bankruptcy fraud, Archibald came clean and admitted his human failings.
Other Public Utility Companies Found Joe Perkins' "Dirty Tricks" Work Attractive
Over the years, Joe Perkins became so good at compromising and neutralizing local, state, and federal public officials, regulatory agencies, grassroots community groups, environmental and social justice organizations, and news reporters in Alabama that his "trade secrets" appealed to the Southern Company (Alabama Power's parent company) and Georgia Power Company. These companies hired Perkins to render clandestine political "dirty tricks" of a similar nature in Georgia.
Joe Perkins is a confessed federal lawbreaker who uses the money and resources of these giant utility companies to implement and operate a wide array of clandestine influence peddling schemes. These regulated companies obviously want political operatives like Perkins who will do whatever it takes to protect their business monopolies.
In 2020, Jeff Pitts, the CEO of Perkins' public relations firm, Matrix, LLC, left the company. In a September 2021 lawsuit filed against Perkins, Pitts publicly accused Perkins of engaging in extortion, abusing legal processes, and operating an ongoing criminal racketeering enterprise. Pitts worked with Perkins for nearly 20 years. Perkins is presently waging an all-out litigation war to destroy Pitts and his professional reputation.
Today, law enforcement agencies in Florida and two of the state's major newspapers are investigating Matrix's business activities in the state. Perkins is desperately trying to distance himself from these investigations.
Controlling Federal Law Enforcement Activities in Alabama
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 1980, Alabama Power learned from the "Coal Fraud Trial" in federal court in Birmingham, Alabama that federal RICO criminal cases against one of its corporate executives could be "fixed" if the company and its tight network of corporate partners in Alabama controlled the Chief U.S. District Court Judge in the trial venue.
Alabama Power's grip on federal judges in Alabama is detailed in two recent articles: "Joe Perkins: The Political Reincarnation of Alabama Power's Walter F. Johnsey," published on December 30, 2021, and "Judge Frank H. McFadden: The Case of Douglas L. Pope," published on January 16, 2022.
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.
Alabama Power, the Southern Company, and Georgia Power have substantially benefitted 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.