Matrix LLC is an Alabama communications company with a mission statement of helping business and political clients with “highly sensitive and crisis situations.”
The company has found itself in a sensitive situation as a series of news articles this week unearthed its behind-the-scenes work in Florida and Alabama.
See also: Archibald: Unveiling political dark arts in Alabama and Florida is critical to the republic
Floodlight, a nonprofit news organization that partnered with The Orlando Sentinel and the Guardian, exposed the role Matrix plays in Alabama politics, saying the company has been described as “the closest thing Alabama politics has to a non-governmental secret agency.”
An investigation by The Miami Herald shows Matrix employed intermediaries between executives with Florida Power & Light, a publicly traded utility, and the Capitolist, a news website that savaged critics of a FPL rate hike, impugning their motives and suggesting they were part of “dark money” schemes.
Here are five takeaways from the Floodlight report:
- “Matrix’s principal, (founder Joe) Perkins, says he discovered only after (former CEO Jeff) Pitts left the firm that he and other now-former employees had been conducting ‘shadow activities and operations’ dating back to 2016. He is suing Pitts in Alabama for fraud and conspiracy.”
“For many years and without my knowledge or approval, Pitts abused his power and position to benefit himself and his cronies,” Perkins said in a statement to The Guardian. Pitts, who left Matrix in December 2020 to start his own firm, Canopy Partners, did not respond to a request for comment by The Guardian.
AL.com reported on the lawsuit in September 2021.
Efforts by AL.com to reach a lawyer for Pitt was unsuccessful Thursday afternoon. A lawyer for Perkins did not provide a statement prior to publication.
- Matrix has been linked to former Gov. Don Siegelman, former Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford, and Trey Glenn, a former EPA official who worked in Alabama — all of whom were convicted of various federal offenses.
“An Alabama governor the company worked for was convicted of federal felony corruption charges. A Birmingham mayor who employed Matrix got 15 years for bribery, conspiracy and fraud. And a former regional administrator for the EPA who did business with Pitts pleaded guilty to violating state ethics law multiple times,” the report states.
- “In 1998, the firm distributed copies of a video in which a sex worker falsely alleged she had been sexually assaulted by a candidate for lieutenant governor. The sex worker later testified the allegations were untrue, and that she had been paid by a Birmingham businessman to make them,” the report states.
Republican Steve Windom in his victorious 1998 race for lieutenant governor was the target of an ex-sex worker’s uncorroborated allegations that Windom raped and beat her while she was working for a Mobile escort service in 1991.
A lie-detector test indicated that Windom was truthful when he said he had never, to his knowledge, met the woman and had never paid to have sex. She recanted in testimony.
Jasper lawyer Garve Ivey was found guilty of witness-tampering and criminal defamation for using those allegations against Windom, who was then elected Alabama’s first Republican lieutenant governor since Reconstruction.
- “In 2015, Matrix distributed fliers for a suspicious charity in a predominantly Black neighborhood in North Birmingham. The fliers warned residents not to let the Environmental Protection Agency test their soil for the presence of contaminants left by a coal plant,” the report states.
The pollution in the north Birmingham neighborhoods of Collegeville, Harriman Park and Fairmont has been around for more than 100 years.
Several parties in Alabama opposed the testing, including former state Rep. Oliver Robinson, David Roberson, Drummond’s vice president and Joel Gilbert, a powerhouse lawyer with Balch & Bingham.
Gilbert and Roberson were convicted of federal criminal charges – conspiracy, bribery, honest services wire fraud and money laundering – in July 2018. Robinson entered a guilty plea and agreed to testify for the government.
- One of Matrix’s oldest clients is Alabama Power, which employed Perkins’ personal consulting firm as early as 1999. In 2018, Perkins Communications received at least $1.49 million from Alabama Power, a leaked contract shows.
“Those who provoked the utility’s ire suffered a harsh response,” the report states, citing the 2014 re-election defeat of Terry Dunn to Alabama’s Public Service Commission after Dunn “made moves to hold formal hearings on how customers’ energy bills were calculated – something that hadn’t happened in three decades. Customers at the time were paying some of the highest rates for electricity in the south-east.”
“Groups aligned with the utility falsely tied Dunn to the Obama administration’s efforts to reduce the use of coal,” the report states. “Alabama Power still hasn’t had a rate case.”
Efforts by AL.com to reach Alabama Power for comment Thursday afternoon were unsuccessful.
Howard Koplowitz contributed to this report.