This is a witness account, so I am putting it in the first person. At the City Council meeting on July 24th 2018, I made a 2-minute speech at City Council, in which I referred to a vote in September 2017 in which Boyd did not recuse himself. Berlin Boyd responded with a remarkable diatribe, in which he said “…someone’s going to get hurt and it won’t be me.”
I wrote a blog in July, 1544 Madison: An Open Letter to Berlin Boyd, which was part of a series of blogs on Boyd. The blog followed Boyd’s interactions with enterprises owned by Bill Orgel, including almost $40K in political contributions, a series of votes on the Land Use Control Board in which Boyd voted for permits for Orgel cell towers and a number of grants to Orgel developments, on which Boyd voted on City Council. I provided some open record requests at the EDGE board and DMC proving eleven meetings between Boyd and EDGE officials, Boyd’s partnership with Bill Orgel’s family firm and other Orgel lieutenants, and the issuance of a $6.2M PILOT to the partnership.
Berlin Boyd called me out.
At the previous Council meeting on July 10th, Boyd had an interaction with a speaker from the public, Aaron Fowles. In this extract from the official video, at minute 9:56, Boyd talks about Theryn Bond’s ejection from the chamber at the previous meeting and continues “… People who put lies out and people get contracts and go to Nashville and set up TDZ’s. Are you serious. And you sit there and lie and hold your camera…”. I was holding a camera at the time.
I had written “Berlin Boyd applied to the State of Tennessee to expand the Tourism Development Zone northwards.”, in relation to the Mud Island TDZ. In the linked article in the Memphis Daily News: “Memphis City Councilman Berlin Boyd said that he’s waiting to hear back from the state of Tennessee about an expansion of Mud Island’s tourism development zone to encompass the Pinch District.
Mystery car noted on Facebook.
On July 10th, someone posted about seeing a vehicle with Mississippi plates and a “B BOYD” vanity tag parked in front of City Hall. A comment was made that it might be Berlin Boyd’s car and I said it might have been former council member Bill Boyd.
On the 24th, I posted on MRYE for people to keep an eye out for this car and get a photo. I did not mention Berlin Boyd, just quoted the vanity plate.
What Happened at City Hall
Here’s an excerpt from the 2-minute speeches on 7/24/2018, taken from the official video. As I felt that Boyd had directly addressed me on the 10th, I came to Council and spoke.
Thanks to Councilwoman Janis Fullilove
I started out by thanking Councilwoman Fullilove, who had said, “Last fall, I deferred to some of my colleagues on the City Council who expressed concern about IRV. I have rethought my position. The people have already voted for this. We ought to give it a try”. I added: thank you Councilwoman Fullilove, one honest council member”.
Correcting the Nashville misquote
Then I referred to Boyd’s statement from the previous meeting. Boyd said that I had said he went to Nashville, then gave the quote above from my blog: “Berlin Boyd applied to the State of Tennessee to expand the Tourism Development Zone northwards.” And then I quoted the original Daily News article which I had linked. I pointed out the misquote.
Conflict of Interest in September vote
Then I went on to my final point of the evening. 2/28/2017 1544 Madison Partners buys the Madison Avenue property. 9/5/2017: Berlin Boyd votes on City Council for a cell tower special use permit for Tower Assets Newco IX LLC, one of Bill Orgel’s cell tower ventures. This vote happened after the 1544 Madison property deal, so Orgel was a partner of Boyd at the time of this vote.
I was about to go on and ask why Boyd had not recused himself, when I got cut off.
Berlin Boyd lashes out
Berlin Boyd: What does this have to do with… Let me just say this. I am about to go on record to file a restraining order against you, because you are becoming excessive and stalkerish. You just lied two seconds ago when you said that I was driving a vehicle with Mississippi tags on it. I do not own a vehicle with Mississippi tags on it. **
Berlin Boyd: But I will go on record to put a restraining order against you, because someone’s going to get hurt and it won’t be me. I guarantee that. Have a nice day.
Me: So I’m going to get hurt, am I?
BB: Sir, you drive by my house and that’s inappropriate.
Me: I’ve never driven by your house.
BB: I’m not debating you sir.
Me: I’ve never been on your street.
BB: I have cameras at my house, sir, and your behavior is excessive. You’re stalking me and lying on me every chance you get. Sir, please have a seat.
Me: I’ve never lied about you.
BB: Set him out, get your facts straight, kick him out
** This is a reference to my request for people to photograph the “B BOYD” vanity tag. I never said he was driving the car.
I have never stalked Boyd, never been on his street, and I am not on Boyd’s security camera footage. He is a corrupt public figure and I have blogged about him. I have not lied about Berlin Boyd.
Boyd issued a physical threat in response to my fair comment.
Berlin Boyd lies a lot. He should release his security footage. I predict he won’t.
Berlin Boyd is rattled about my blog. There’s a smoking gun there.
Legal Fees Fundraiser.
Please donate to my fundraiser at fundly.com. I’m raising money to pay an attorney to get an order of protection against Berlin Boyd. (Updated 7/26/2018).
Caissa Public Strategy operates behind the scenes. Their stable of client politicians dominates City Council, they’ve worked for Mayor Strickland’s administration and they have a host of business clients, for whom they perform a range of services, from reputation management to marketing to “crisis management”. They are one of the best-connected entities in town.
The first section here “The Caissa Seven” is an analysis of the contributions received by each Councilor and their expenditures with Caissa. It clearly shows how the Caissa Seven dominates Council. This is motivation for a closer look at some of Caissa’s other activities.
The second section, “Caissa Client: Fellowship Memphis and the Rick Trotter case” shows how Caissa orchestrated the “crisis management” of a previous Rick Trotter sex offense at Fellowship Memphis. Trotter was fired in 2010 from his job at Fellowship Memphis when the church elders found he had been secretly videoing women in a bathroom at the church. He then went to Downtown Church, who had been told of his Fellowship history. In 2016 he was arrested for upskirt photography at his new church, and indicted in October 2017. Caissa Public Strategy were called in by Fellowship Memphis and engaged in “crisis management”. The ongoing police investigation of the Fellowship case has apparently stalled. The insight into how Caissa manages client reputations behind the scenes is revealing. A further post is planned, a deeper dive into the shenanigans at Fellowship Memphis. David Bonner termed Fellowship a “cult or cult-like” entity.
Our third section includes basic biographical details on Caissa’s owners, Brian Jefferson Stevens and Paige Walkup.
Caissa, with their massive and mostly secret network, pops up in odd places, generally when an official document has to be filed. Everyone in the media sees their hand in occasional flashes, and knows they are there, but we see few attempts to document their scope and influence. This series of articles is an attempt to gain some insight into what they do, and how.
Note to viewers: I expect some of the links in this article to go away. Not to worry, I have copies of everything. Please inform me of broken links and I’ll annotate them with an alternative source. In this story, broken links are a part of the narrative.
The Caissa Seven.
Above: Frank Colvett, Berlin Boyd, Reid Hedgepeth, Kemp Conrad, Worth Morgan, Bill Morrison, Philip Spinosa. (City of Memphis)
Fig. 1 was created by totaling all contributions, and all expenditures to Caissa Public Strategy, filed at the Election Commission for the period January 1st 2015 to June 30th 2016, for all Council incumbents.
Reid Hedgepeth did not use Caissa in this election cycle. He was first elected in 2007, before Caissa was founded, and had his own campaign habits set. We include Hedgepeth in the Caissa Seven on the basis of this Daily News article featuring a Brian Stephens interview, which identifies Hedgepeth as part of the Caissa contingent. He also donated $5000 to the Republican Party on his Pre-General 2015 campaign disclosure, and Republican affiliation is another marker for the Caissa Seven.
Kemp Conrad’s expenditures for the Pre-General 2015 disclosure are not on file. We estimated $30,000, based on other candidate’s patterns. All the other numbers were taken straight from the campaign disclosures.
We can see a clear breakdown of City Council. The Republican-oriented mostly white Caissa Seven had average contributions of $146K while the African American opposition group had average contributions of only $34K. The Caissa Seven netted five times the money of the opposition, and spent even more, because some Caissa candidates also loaned large amounts to their campaigns, including Worth Morgan’s $50,000 loan.
Although the opposition group is a recognizable subset of Council, they don’t vote as a group and Edmund Ford has a lot of similar, big money contributions to the Caissa Seven. They are an individualistic group.
On the other hand, the Caissa Seven share a common agenda, and tend to vote as a bloc on issues critical to the big money politics of the Memphis white power elite. This can be clearly seen in policing-, zoning, budget and property related issues. Some latitude is allowed on non-critical agenda items, including Berlin Boyd’s and Kemp Conrad’s divergent votes on Berlin Boyd’s Marijuana measure in August 2016. The Commercial Appeal called it a “rare split vote”.
Violations of the Open Meetings Law have been alleged. We don’t know what mechanisms might have been used to apply an apparent whip to the Caissa Seven, and, in many cases, the other Councilors. The only apparent linkages are some shared staffers at City Hall, Allan Wade, the Council Attorney, and their handlers at Caissa, all of whom would have had legitimate reasons to talk to multiple Council members. We don’t want to speculate on whether there was a Whip or how it might have been applied, but we also don’t understand how complex resolutions suddenly formed from whole cloth.
As Caissa operates behind the scenes, the existence of their own “party” in City Council is reason for concern. Caissa also worked in the Jim Strickland Mayoral transition in 2015. Their influence, which they exert on behalf of their private clients, is pervasive in City Government.
Bill Morrison worked for Caissa as George Flinn’s campaign manager. Those campaign disclosure documents are missing from the Election Commission site, but two knowledgeable sources confirm.
Caissa also worked for County Commissioners Heidi Shafer and Willie Brooks. The 2014 County election cycle candidate disclosures are so incomplete that we don’t want to infer anything , except that Caissa’ influence in the County is also strong.
Caissa Client: Fellowship Memphis and the Rick Trotter case.
Caissa is a company of secrets, and their client list is one of the biggest of those secrets . We defer discussion of their clients for a future article in this series and focus on a single case here, Fellowship Memphis.
Wondering Eagle blog has done numerous pieces about Trotter’s career over the years. In this August 2016 post, David Bonner talks about Caissa Public Strategy’s involvement in the Trotter case.
According to a joint statement by Downtown Church and Fellowship Memphis, Trotter’s previous employer, “Trotter was employed as a Worship Director by Fellowship from August 2005 to February of 2010. In February 2010, it was reported that Trotter was engaged in inappropriate conduct”. Trotter had made video of people using a bathroom at the Church.
From David Bonner’s August 2016 blog post: Asterisks are inserted by us and refer to the notes at the end of the extract.
“.…In the case of Fellowship Memphis the hiring of a PR firm to supposedly “investigate” the situation creates a number of questions that deserve asking. … Fellowship Memphis recently hired a PR firm called Caissa Public Strategy. … Caissa is led by Brian J. Stephens * and I am hearing from my sources that the investigator is Jessica Muntz**. Jessica is a graduate of Mississippi State University, and you can see her background in LinkedIn right here. While Caissa is referred to as a public relations firm in this Christian Post article it says that Fellowship Memphis hired a PI firm. The reality is that it can be both. In this interview you *** can hear Brian J Stephens talk about how Caissa works. They help clients win and do what it takes to win and allegedly teach organizations and companies that crisis can also be an opportunity. …
For a church to go and hire a PR firm signals a couple of things for me. First is that this place is very cult like or cultish. Second is that its (sic) very much and (sic) indicator that it still is committed to maintaining the alleged cover up. I wonder if the reason why Caissa is hired is because of their knowledge of the news media and if that is a response to the articles about Fellowship Memphis in the Commercial Appeal. …
If you live in the Memphis area and you are contacted by Caissa this is my advice to you. First of all remember that this firm is not neutral. They are not there to get the truth out. They have been compromised in this one way. Money has exchanged hands and this firm is dedicated to defending the client, which in this case is John Bryson and Fellowship Memphis. It should be stated that you have your rights and you do not have to cooperate with them if you are approached. Their goal in the end is to plug leaks and to do damage control for Fellowship Memphis. When it comes to allegations of criminal activity there is one organization you should go to first and that is the Memphis Police. It’s my understanding that the Memphis Police are investigating the situation with Rick Trotter. They have three years of recordings to go through and they have a lot of victims to identify. But remember if you are approached you are free to walk away and not cooperate. You have done nothing wrong, this behavior is more indicative of what you would see in the dark underworld of the mafia. I also would suggest that you not get angry at Jessica Muntz as she is just doing her job. Be polite, cordial and treat her with respect but remember you do not have to talk with her and anyone from Caissa. If you have knowledge of an alleged crime I again would implore you to go to the Memphis Police. They exist for that purpose and are trained to handle these kinds of issues. If any of you guys have any experiences with Caissa you are free to post them here on this blog.
* Brian Stephens’ bio on the Caissa website. At the time the blog was posted, the “Leadership” page clicked through to individual biographical pages. These individual pages have since been removed and Bonner’s link is showing a “HTTP 404” error, indicating that the page was not found. As of 10/28/2017, none of the Leadership individual entries click through to an underlying bio page. This is how Brian Stephens bio looked on July 14, 2016, courtesy of Archive.Org.
** Jennifer Muntz’s bio on the Caissa website has been removed since this blog was posted. Muntz has left Caissa’s employ. Here’s Jessica Muntz’s Caissa bio, as it appeared on 9/2/1026, at Archive.org.
*** This link pointed to a post in LPBC.com. The Lipscomb Pitts Breakfast Club is a volunteer outfit run by Jeremy Parks. The post in question is a radio show broadcast from 1/14/2014 entitled “Gestalt Community Schools: Copeland Coaching and Caissa Public Strategy featuring an interview with Brian Stephens. We retrieved the Stephens interview segment from Archive.Org. Streaming audio here.
Although the removed links are fairly trivial, the fact presumably Caissa chose to change their site and also that Parks redacted his own site is interesting. This is the sort of thing an expert in “reputation management” does all the time.
Caissa was called in to perform “crisis management” when the Fellowship story blew up again at the time of Rick Trotter’s August 2016 arrest.
The screen snip above right is from Watch Keep blog post dated 8/22/2016. The phone number is Jessica Muntz‘s cell number.
JB Martinez, one of the alleged victims of the Fellowship Memphis alleged voyeur, writes about her experience. She describes steps taken by Fellowship Memphis to hide evidence and to browbeat victims to not report the alleged crimes.
Because the Trotter video has been hidden, and was seen only by two Fellowship elders, the alleged victim list is hard to compile, but we do have a list of people who used the bathroom at a time when Trotter was known to be videoing, which we will share with media.
The proof of Caissa’s effectiveness is that, until now, Rick Trotter, despite being fired for sexual impropriety at Fellowship Memphis, was able to go to Downtown Church and continue photographing women up-skirt for another six years, despite Downtown being notified of the reason why he was fired at Fellowship. The sorry episode resulted in no prosecutions and only a few media mentions.
We have recently seen signs that Caissa is actively pursuing “reputation management” in the late-October – early November timeframe. Caissa operatives have been contacting Fellowship Memphis alleged victims.
On November 2nd, a mention of Caissa in a post apparently resulted in a Caissa employee joining the group, less than two hours later.
We are seeing heightened activity.
We invited Brian Stephens to comment on this article, but he did not return two calls to his office and cellphone. His book title is “Only Morons say No Comment”.
Caissa Public Strategy is headed up by Brian Jefferson Stephens and Paige Walkup. Caissa have removed their personal bios, which were clickable from their Our Team page. Here’s an archived version of the team page from 2016, where the potted bios are still visible, courtesy of Archive.org
Brian Jefferson Stephens attended Marion Military Institute from 1988 to 1992, was awarded a BS by Appalachian State University 1992-1995, and has a law degree from University of Tulsa College of Law, 1995-1998.
He worked as an attorney at Allen, Scruggs, Sossaman, and Thompson from 1998 to 2003, Tennessee Law license 1999, operated a lawn care business as Ecosystems Inc (SOS Control # 000460890) from 2004 to 2010, was Executive Director of Rebuild Government in 2009 to 2010 and started Caissa Public Strategy with Paige Walkup in December 2010.
Stephens was awarded the Army Achievement Medal, according to his Linkedin page. This is only awarded to lower ranks in the military, so we conjecture that he had an Army Reserve deployment somewhere in his career. 60,000 of these were awarded since 2001.
Caissa was registered on 12/28/2010 to take over the business of The Stephens Group Law Firm. Paige Walkup is the co-owner and Managing Director
Paige Beverly Walkup attended North Carolina State University from 1990 to 1992, has a BA from Elon Univ (1993 to 1996) and an MA in Applied Anthropology from University of Memphis (1997-1999).
She taught at Univ. of Memphis from 2000 to 2009, was Resource Development and Marketing Director at United Housing from 1998 to 2009, Project Administrator at Rebuild Government from 2009 to 2011, and was a founder of Caissa Public Strategy in December 2010.
*confirmed still at Caissa. **Confirmed to have left Caissa
Conclusions and Summary
Caissa’s political clients and allies, the Caissa Seven, dominate City Council by a one-vote majority, and also dominate in raising political contributions. Caissa also has hooks in Jim Strickland’s administration and in various City programs and functions.
Caissa has played a role in helping the elders of Fellowship Church hide from the consequences of their alleged involvement in covering up a sex crime, and enabling the alleged perpetrator, Rick Trotter to work at another church, Downtown Church. Fellowship Memphis failed in their duty to report the alleged crimes to the authorities, and Downturn Church, despite being informed of Trotter’s firing for sexual misbehavior, failed to protect their own members from similar abuse.
At least three links in the original David Bonner blog, all relating to Caissa, have been removed since the blog was posted. Caissa conducted interviews with victims and some of those victims have not cooperated with official inquiries. Evidence in the case may have gone missing. MPD were never noted for efficient handling of sex and domestic abuse cases . The seven year delay in handling the Fellowship Memphis cases, despite some victims filing complaints, for a case not involving rape kits, is excessive. We have questions.
We like to characterize this Fellowship mess as an onion. There’s an outer layer consisting of Caissa’s “crisis management” of the troubles of the church elders. The second layer is the role of the Fellowship management in dealing with the Trotter case, which seems to include activities around the disposition of physical evidence and possible interference with victims and witnesses. This started when the Trotter activities were first reported in 2010 and involved Caissa more recently. The inner layer of the onion is the alleged crimes of Trotter himself. It’s three different sets of behaviors, occurring in different time frames and involving three different sets of protagonists. If there were crimes involved, some of them may have statutes of limitation issues.
We think another layer of “crisis management” is in the process of formation at the time of writing, November 2017.
Next post: Caissa’s clients and contracts. Coming soon.
Ryan Poe’s Commercial Appeal article on the Boyd Scandal on September marked a watershed in Memphis politics. This is Ryan’s well-deserved scoop, but I am pretty sure it could not have been written two years ago.
During the 2015 election cycle, the Boyd article to the right appeared in the CA. The piece, written by Kyle Veazey, who has since left the CA to work for the city, contains two factual errors, which, incidentally, have never been corrected by the CA.
An anonymous source circulated a packet of information at the time, showing that Boyd’s realtor license had expired more than a year before. It went to most of the media, and to Anthony Anderson and Thurston Smith, Boyd opponents in the District 7 election.
Although posing as a realtor without a license contravenes Tennessee Real Estate Commission (TREC) rules, this story got no play whatsoever. We know the source of this leak and have a copy of the packet that was sent.
The next attempt to out Boyd came in the Facebook page, Memphis Raise Your Expectations. (MRYE). This October 2015 post garnered 427 comments and had a charmed life. MRYE incubated Memphis Coalition of Concerned Citizens and has broken significant news stories.
After being dormant since the November 2015 election, this thread started up again, on November 2, 2016, and hundreds of new comments were added. The new posts had a lot of new information. The thread was closed in November 2016 and this new Boyd thread continued the discussion. Warning: The MRYE Boyd posts contain adult content).
The information was not picked up by the media, but it did ignite a discussion on MRYE, in which the media got called out and somewhat forcefully reminded of the role of the fourth estate.
I can now reveal that the Boyd exposes were not all my own work. They were the product of a group that was started in August, 2016. Let’s call it the Boyd Study Group. Because the crew contains confidential informants, I will continue to protect its anonymity. I was the scribe so I by-lined the posts in MemphisTruth.org. This was in accordance with the site’s stated policy on protection of confidential sources. I composed the first drafts of the pieces, based on group discussion, they went through a group editing process, and all salient information was fact checked by me and citations provided.
Activist study groups had sprung up during the Greensward disputes of 2016 and the technique has been widely adopted in activist circles. This is one of a dozen such groups that I know about.
We could have done like Woodward and Bernstein did with Deep Throat, and had clandestine meetings in parking garages, but instead we chose to integrate our confidential sources into the group. I can say that the Boyd Study Group has white, African American and Latino members, men and women, believers and skeptics. We decided that these groups work best when small, a maximum of five members and ideally four. We use encrypted media. I have never met one member, met another only once and we have cell-based operational security.
MRYE had the scoop on the Boyd Papers. In an unrelated event, I uncovered the A-list and broke the story in MemphisTruth.org and MRYE. The media seized on this story and it ran in February and March, yielding several court cases, notably the ACLU case against the City and MPD. Mayor Strickland and Director Rallings squirmed for the cameras.
The media, specifically the CA, had been challenged to perform its role as the Fourth Estate. The A-list controversy, coming at time of cutbacks in the press, highlighted something important that both the media and the activist community held in high regard. We could all get behind the First Amendment. In the backwash of the Trump presidency, these things suddenly seemed important. Activists worked with the media, and mutual respect was garnered. The media had changed, even the august, pro status quo CA, scalded by cutbacks in the press room, could no longer get by without contributions from citizens media. The news and politics got interesting. The accession of Mark Russell to the Executive Editorship of the CA seemed to bring a new era of journalistic openness at the CA. He was heard to say that we had been giving his guy Ryan Poe a hard time, and that was OK with him.
The Boyd Scandal Erupts
Ted Evanoff of the CA posted this early news of Boyd’s $280,000 contract on September 11th. Then, Ryan Poe published his first piece on Berlin Boyd’s failure to recuse himself from a conflict of interest in his contract with Beale St Merchants Association. The stalwart Bill Dries of the Daily News pitched in, and MRYE buzzed with the news. Even City Councilor Worth Morgan added his criticism. Behind the Headlines discussed.
The pivotal point in the discussion came with Bernal Smith’s Open Letter in the Tri State Defender. This was a scathing rebuttal of Boyd’s excuses, which did not pass Smith’s “smell test”. Notably, Smith quoted several MRYE comments in his letter. Boyd even came on MRYE (I think for the first time) and engaged in a long discussion on the 15th.
Paul Morris, former interim manager at Beale St., posted twice on Facebook, on 09/14/2017 and 09/15/2017. In the second post, he raised a red flag at the corruption potential of the Allen Wade legal opinion, which opened the door for all City Council members who wished not to declare conflicts of interest.
Ted Evanoff penned this piece in the CA on September 16th, a rare defense of Boyd. The CA editorial on September 19th was a scathing criticism of Boyd, likening it to a Trump shenanigan. The CA editorial team set the tone of the debate, and, hopefully forever, officially placed the CA on the side of transparency and accountability. We view this as one of the main achievements of the Boyd Scandal.
Social Media was on fire. Retired veteran reporter Les Smith contributed, MRYE was livid and a twitter feed, @BoydAndAss and hashtag #BerlinBoyd appeared, as well as a short-lived Facebook page misleadingly labeled Boyd-Associates.
The same day the CA editorialized, Boyd announced he would be “rescinding” his Beale St. Merchants Association contract. We believe that Boyd had being discussing the issue with his handlers and had not wanted to give up the lucrative gig. Media pressure made him do it.
Berlin Boyd is not the only Council member who engages in questionable practices. The use of public money for private gain is rampant. This “Ethics Petition” from 2014 has details.
The Boyd study group is currently examining our methodology. We have learned some lessons from Ryan Poe and our efforts with the Boyd scandal. We have relied on confidential sources and the media following the money. We have had some learning curve. We have seen how one self-enrichment scheme works, and how it is narrowly defined as legitimate by Allen Wade, the City Council counsel.
We plan to make our next project more efficient, and rely less on chance to find patterns of corruption. We’ll report back on what we find.
The Boyd Study Group continues its work, and continues to be secret to protect its embedded sources. To use an analogy from government spying, we substituted human intelligence sources for a range of possible technical information gathering methods. Alternative techniques exist for this sort of work, including neural network based text mining applications and crowdsourced citizen searching of available public records. We are currently analyzing our methods and data with a view to improving future corruption research, and will publish our findings. We are spawning new study groups focused on other targets in the city. The swamp at City Hall needs to be drained, and no incumbent seems interested in doing that.
Updated 9/27/2013 to add Paul Morris links and the contract amount.