The Price of Truth In Journalism
By Donald V. Watkins
©Copyrighted and Published on February 9, 2018
I started my career as an online journalist in 2013. My early investigative articles focused on Mark E. Fuller, a Montgomery federal judge, marital cheater, and notorious wife beater. I also reported on Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore’s many breaches of judicial ethics and his most recent allegations of child molestation. Additionally, I defended the prosecution of Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard on state ethics charges.
In 2016, I published a series of investigative articles that solved the 2005 murder of Army Private LaVena Johnson by a four-star general on a military base in Balad, Iraq and exposed the Pentagon's 10-year cover-up of her murder. The Pentagon had deliberately led Private Johnson's family to believe that she committed suicide in order to protect her high-ranking murderer.
When I began covering Robert Bentley and his gross misconduct as Alabama’s governor in 2013, all hell broke loose. Bentley, who resigned from office in April 2017 after pleading guilty to state law ethics violations, believed he had the right platform necessary to shut me down. Bentley used his powers as “Chief Magistrate of Alabama” to get the following agencies to investigate me:
1. The Alabama State Banking Department. In 2013, the Banking Department scoured Alamerica Bank’s books and records looking for any technical violation of banking rules and regulations to lodge against the Bank or me. I am the largest shareholder in the Bank. The Department elicited the help of the FDIC in subjecting Alamerica Bank to an unprecedented level of heightened scrutiny. Eventually, the two regulatory agencies agreed that the FDIC should take the lead in investigating me. This move provided the Banking Department regulatory cover and deniability for its impermissible motives.
2. The City of Birmingham, Alabama. In 2013, I was engaged in a constructive dialogue with the City of Birmingham on the question of whether the City had the power and authority to assess business license fees and related taxes on revenues derived from the sale of goods and services outside its city limits. I knew from my extensive legal work for Mayor Emory Folmar (R-Montgomery) and Mayor Richard Arrington, Jr., (D-Birmingham), that the answer to this question was, “no”. Without prior warning or notice, the City filed two highly publicized lawsuits against me in April 2014 seeking $146,000 in business license fees and occupational taxes for the 2007 to 2012 assessment period. The City also asked a judge to padlock my businesses until I paid the fees and taxes it sought. I vigorous defended this lawsuit. Eventually, the City agreed to audit my companies’ financial books and records for the assessment period. The audit revealed that I only owed $11,769, which I promptly paid.
3. The Internal Revenue Service. I am the CEO of Masada Resource Group, LLC, a global waste-to-energy company. On June 7, 2017, Masada was notified that the company had won its appeal relating to $56,490 in IRS penalties that were improvidently imposed on Masada for tax years 2009 through 2014. All of these IRS penalties were imposed on Masada at the same time and without any notice to the company. The IRS never explained why it imposed the penalties for six consecutive tax years in a coordinated, simultaneous fashion and without proper notice to Masada. All of the penalties were abated and the liens removed as a result of our successful appeal.
4. Internal Revenue Service, Again. On February 24, 2017, the IRS ended an inquiry that targeted five items of income totaling $173,458 on my 2014 tax returns. The inquiry started on November 28, 2016. On December 23, 2016, I provided the IRS with substantial documentation to justify each and every item in question. On February 24th, the IRS notified me that the information submitted resolved all questions about my 2014 tax returns. No additional tax dollars were due upon the conclusion of this second IRS probe.
5. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. The FDIC issue arose in 2013 and involves the interpretation an exception to the general rule on the extension of credit to bank insiders. As part of its coordinated efforts with the State Banking Department, the FDIC has steadfastly refused to recognize and apply this exception in my case. The FDIC has never offered a credible explanation for denying me the protections codified in this exception to the general rule. An administrative law judge will hear the FDIC case at some future date.
6. The Securities and Exchange Commission. On March 18, 2014, the SEC commenced an investigation of Masada, Watkins Pencor, LLC, Donald V. Watkins, P.C., and me to ascertain: (a) whether I “duped” two professional athletes in connection with the sale of Watkins Pencor economic participations to them; (b) whether I used the proceeds from these sales for personal expenses, without proper authorization; and (c) whether a contemplated transaction between Masada and Waste Management, Inc., in 2011 and 2012 was a genuine acquisition effort by Waste Management. After conducting exhaustive discovery in the case, the SEC essentially abandoned these baseless claims and is now focused on three loans provided to Donald V. Watkins, P.C., by Charles Barkley between 2010 and 2013. Each loan was: (a) authorized by our corporate governance documents and contracts, (b) discussed with Mr. Barkley and his designated financial advisor, (c) properly documented, and (d) contributed to the growth of the businesses involved. Interestingly, the SEC, which does not regulate my businesses, has never publicly mentioned any of these material facts.
7. The U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey. In November 2015, I was notified by the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey that his office was investigating my conduct in connection with the sale of the same economic participations that are the subject of the current SEC lawsuit. I voluntarily submitted a detailed factual and evidential memorandum to the U.S. Attorney that addressed and debunked each and every allegation of wrongdoing. The U.S. Attorney’s office closed its investigation within weeks after receiving this detailed memorandum and independently verifying its factual information.
The Birmingham News, an affiliate of AL.com, reported on several of these matters, and did so in the most negative light possible. The News, which is a dying media organization, is one of my fading media competitors.
It is well documented that the News collaborated with the FBI in its infamous program to discredit social justice activists who opposed racial segregation in the South during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. The News also worked closely with the now-defunct Alabama Sovereignty Commission to implement its “massive resistance” to desegregation initiatives in Alabama and across the South.
Anyone considering a career in investigative journalism needs to be prepared to pay the price for this kind of noble work. The price of truth in journalism is extremely high, especially in states where investigative journalists are targeted for harassment and relentlessly attacked by government officials and agencies for their work. Investigative journalism is not a career for the faint of heart.