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  • Writer's pictureDonald V. Watkins

True Friends Fought While “Sunshine” Friends Deserted the Battlefield

Updated: Sep 6, 2022

By Donald V. Watkins

©Copyrighted and Published on April 1, 2019

It has been three weeks since I was convicted in a Birmingham federal court on ten counts of conspiracy, wire fraud, and bank fraud charges. On March 15, 2019, I published an article on why I must appeal my conviction. I am prepared for this legal fight.

What I was not prepared for was this -- the desertion from my friendship circle of seven individuals who were life-long friends. Two of these individuals committed to be witnesses for me at the trial but reneged on their commitment at the last minute. One of them visited me a day or so before he was scheduled to testify and begged out of taking the witness stand. The second one sent me a text the day before he was scheduled to testify and simply said he would not do so.

Over the decades, I helped all seven of them in countless ways. I never sought anything in return for helping them. This was the nature of my friendship.

Three of these “sunshine” friends were threatened with criminal prosecutions themselves and I dropped everything I was doing to save them. We were successful in each case.

One of these “sunshine” friends is a former member of a law firm that made more than $14 million when I hired his firm to work on legal cases I handled for the City of Birmingham.

The fifth and sixth “sunshine” friends used my time, money, relationships and resources to advance their careers. One of them now holds an appointed public office in Birmingham’s city government.

The seventh “sunshine” friend operates private businesses and he betrayed our friendship in ways that were unimaginable. His eagerness to desert me is baffling, and it remains a mystery to this day.

I gladly and willingly gave my friendship to these seven individuals because I thought they were my true friends. I believed this support would be reciprocated if I ever needed them. I was wrong in this assessment.

In my time of need, each one of these seven “sunshine” friends ran from me like I was a stranger with the plague. Each one threw out everything he ever knew about my character and business ethics without asking a single question about my version of the transactions and/or events involved in my trial. They all readily embraced the false narrative Birmingham reporter Kyle Whitmire spun in the court of public opinion. For reasons that are known only to them, these "sunshine" friends treated Whitmire’s skewed trial coverage as if it was the gospel.

Ironically, prior to the trial, each one of these seven friends privately berated Whitmire for what he is – a wannabe journalist whose personal baggage, history of betraying business partners, and lingering dislike for outspoken people of color like me make him a perfect fit for The Birmingham News and Yet, my “sunshine” friends embraced Whitmire’s biased reporting of the trial and used it as cover to desert me while I was under fire in the courtroom.

The Strong Support of True Friends

Two true friends who did not desert me on the battlefield were Ralph Malone and David Minkin. Both of these men willingly testified at my trial without a subpoena.

Ralph is a Georgia Tech engineering graduate, a former NFL player, a member of the Georgia Tech Engineering Hall of Fame, and a member of the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission. He works with me every day as the Vice President for Global Program Management for Masada Resource Group, LLC. No one on the planet intimidates Ralph. He is a man’s man.

After the trial, I met with Ralph and asked him why he stood with me during the trial. Without hesitation, Ralph looked me in the eye and simply said, “You would have done the same thing for me.”

David Minkin is a partner The Minkin Group, LLP, in Atlanta, Georgia, and has been Masada’s General Counsel for more than a decade. David is an expert in the areas of tax credit real estate development, commercial real estate, financial restructuring, corporate finance, government relations and alternative dispute resolution. In 2009, David was awarded “Best Lawyer in Real Estate Law.” He was a designated “Georgia Super Lawyer” in 2007 and 2008, and lastly, he was a Georgia “Legal Elite Lawyer” in 2008. David earned a B.A. degree from Cornell University in 1969 and a M.B.A. and J.D. from Harvard University in 1973. He is admitted to the Georgia Bar, Massachusetts Bar and the New York Bar. David has always been courageous, loyal, and truthful.

Ralph and David know my character and personal value system. They also know that what we accomplished in the international business world was a remarkable achievement for a small Alabama-based firm.

These two men fought for me on the witness stand with honor and courage. Unlike my “sunshine” friends, Ralph and David did not care about Kyle Whitmire and the negative spin he wrote in each one of his articles. They knew that Whitmire’s only role during the trial was to poison the well of public opinion, which he did gleefully. In doing so, Whitmire stayed true to the COINTELPRO role The Birmingham News has played in Alabama since the 1950s.

Many of my newer friends have stepped up to the plate, as well. They have made their presence known and support felt before, during, and after the trial. They have filled the void left by the “sunshine” friends who deserted me. I appreciate and respect their friendship.

My newer friends come from diverse ethnic and demographic backgrounds. They did not buy into the false portrait of me that was painted in court and in Kyle Whitmire's articles. They are loyal, dedicated to the cause of justice, and fearless. I am very fortunate to have these friends in my life.

My “sunshine” friends have called me repeatedly since the trial concluded on March 8th. I do not take their calls because I will not interact with so-called “friends” who deserted me on the battlefield during the heat of battle. There is nothing they can say to me that would explain their desertion to my satisfaction.

Despite it all, my story has a good ending. I no longer have the burden of sacrificing my time, energy, and resources for my old circle of “sunshine” friends. The removal of this burden has given me renewed energy, vitality, and time to nurture my true friendships.

PHOTO: Ralph Malone is a true friend. He served as a witness for the defense in my criminal case. Ralph did not require a subpoena to come tell the truth in court.

PHOTO: David Minkin is also a true friend. Like Ralph Malone, David testified in court for the defense and did not require a subpoena to tell the truth in court.


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