Florida utilities didn’t like journalist commentary.The consultant made him follow | Florida

CA consultant working for America’s largest power company secretly monitored a Jacksonville journalist and obtained a report containing his Social Security number and other sensitive personal information.

The questionnaire logo above the words “The Questionnaire is a non-profit news organization that works with local retailers and guardians to investigate the interests of companies and ideologies that impede climate change.”

Surveillance was done after how journalists wrote critically Florida Power & Light (FPL) sought to upset members of the city council to approve the business plan.Text messages indicate that FPL executives were lagging behind A study by the Florida Times-Union, Orlando Sentinel, and Floodlight revealed what Florida Times-Union columnist Nate Monroe was doing when he was on vacation at the Florida Panhandle in November 2019.

Almost a year later, in October 2020, the consultant also obtained a photo of Monroe and his girlfriend at the time outside an apartment in the Jacksonville area, according to records shared by anonymous sources with reporters.

The FPL approves or denies that it knew the monitoring. However, records show that employees of Matrix LLC, an Alabama-based utility-employed consulting firm, failed to buy $ 11 billion in Florida’s small utility. It cast a shadow over the journalist through the news.

In an interview with a Florida-based reporter group in early June, utility CEO Eric Silagy denied that the company had asked a consultant to spy on journalists.

“I have never approved, approved, or partyed to follow you or any other reporter,” Syrahji told Monroe and others.

Eric Silagy, CEO of Florida Power & Light, told Nate Monroe that he “has never approved or endorsed and has never been a party” to monitor journalists. Photo: Bob Self / Florida Times Union

The relationship between FPL and Matrix is report According to Orlando Sentinel, Matrix operatives have organized a campaign to promote spoiler candidates to divert votes from the Democratic Party so that the Republicans can maintain control of Senator Florida. The FPL denies knowledge or involvement in the scheme.

Journalist surveillance is common in some parts of the world, but more often in the United States, said Ted Bridis, a journalism instructor at the University of Florida. Bridis, a former Associated Press research editor whose phone records were seized by the FBI 10 years ago, said harassment of journalists was fueled and escalated by a “new era of political division.”

“The fact that this kind of behavior may be happening in Florida should shock the conscience by those who are reportedly associated with the largest energy companies,” he said.

The FPL said the law firm reviewed its work at Matrix and found no evidence of misconduct by utility employees, but the FPL refused to share the report or its findings. ..

Documents revealing the surveillance were sent to the Times Union and shared with Orlando Sentinel and Flood & Spot Lights. The document contains a series of text messages to Daniel Martell, Vice President of State Legal at the FPL, demonstrating a well-coordinated effort by Monroe to follow him on vacation.

Monroe has frequently criticized FPL’s efforts to privatize and purchase the Jacksonville Electric Corporation, a community-owned utility for electricity and water and sewerage.The FPL, which controls the territory around Jacksonville, has long been coveted. utility.

FPL spokesman David Reuter said in an email statement that his company “has no digital records on these exchanges and cannot prove its authenticity.” He argued that they could be genuine, incomplete, out of context, or “manipulated to make the FPL look bad.”

“Neither of the information we have, when obtained individually or collectively, indicates fraudulent activity by FPL or our employees,” Reuters said.

Reuters did not point out specific details of the document he thought might be wrong. The FPL has repeatedly accused journalists of misrepresenting the company.

The FPL claims that the document has been published to reporters by Joe Perkins, the founder of Matrix. Perkins was involved in a legal dispute with Jeff Pitts, the former CEO of his company, who left the company in December 2020, and took several employees and customers.

Perkins did not say whether he was the source of the document leaked to journalists, but confirmed that the record was legal. He confirmed that Matrix was able to find the record on Pitts’ previous laptop. Perkins blames Pitts and other “illegal” employees for surveillance.

He denied instructing anyone to spy on Monroe.

“I didn’t know what happened until I looked at the material on Jeff Pitts’ computer,” he said.

In a statement answering a question from the Times Union on records, Pitts lawyer John Collins accused Perkins of “leaving a partial, misleading and confidential client document.”

“For years, Joe Perkins directed and paid for personal surveillance without the knowledge and approval of the client. He provided information that fits his needs, regardless of ethical boundaries. I used to use it a lot, “says Collins. “This is one of many reasons Jeff left the matrix.”

Documents sent to the Times Union from an anonymous source show that the Matrix was monitoring Monroe’s activities on November 9, 2019, when a Times Union columnist was in Pensacola for a friend’s wedding. increase.

That day, Monroe posted a photo of him and his girlfriend on Twitter in front of the mural. The murals clearly show the name of the city and his whereabouts. A few hours later, Monroe tweeted after his alma mater, Louisiana State University, beat his rival University of Alabama in football. It’s time for him to get drunk. According to a leaked text message that Perkins was found on Pitts’ computer, someone in The Matrix sent a screenshot of the tweet to FPL’s Martell at 7:34 EST.

“Great” Martell replied a minute later.

After a while, the Matrix operative sent a text message to Martell, “He’s in Uber.” The operative then added a frowning emoji. The text matches Monroe’s rideshare receipt from that night.

Documents obtained by the Times Union also included a photo taken by Monroe while walking his dog with his then girlfriend near an apartment in the Jacksonville area. The photo dated October 14, 2020 was taken a few days after Monroe. Published column How the FPL last summer planned to send donations to a charity led by a member of the Jacksonville city council. Those members must approve the JEA sale. The plan was not executed.

Another email dated October 24, 2019 between Matrix CEO Pitts and FPL employee Martell includes Monroe’s coverage of sensitive personal information, including social security numbers. Background report was included.

“Shocker, he’s a Democrat and he’s completely bored,” Pitts wrote about the columnist in a document.

An image of the email header with
Extensive background reports on Nate Monroe contained sensitive personal information. Photo: Florida Times Union

It is unknown who was watching Monroe’s movements, how often and what he wanted to collect. However, according to the Matrix records previously acquired by Orlando Sentinel, the company paid more than $ 10,000 to Gainesville’s private detective agency, Clear Capture Investigations, in 2018.

The company has not responded to requests for comment.

The FPL claimed that Matrix may have ordered the report from another client and stated that there was no record of receiving such a report.

“If the Matrix sent such a report to the FPL, it was sent unilaterally,” Reuters said. “If you want to know more about journalists, look at public sources such as social media, the Internet, and other publicly available information.”

Clay Calvert, a law professor at the University of Florida, said it’s not illegal to observe, take pictures, or collect information about someone in public places.

“The problem is intimidation,” he said.

However, Mr. Culvert said surveillance would discourage a few journalists from writing critical articles, and such actions may seduce other reporters to gather around one of their peers. Said.

“It’s obviously bad publicity to try to intimidate journalists,” he said.

Florida utilities didn’t like journalist commentary.The consultant made him follow | Florida

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