Memphis, TN. In the wake of the ACLU’s civil rights victory over the City and MPD, Celitria Watson and April Malone are bringing a lawsuit against the City, County and six officials for evidence tampering and prosecutorial misconduct.
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).
1544 Madison Partners (pdf) is a general partnership with Berlin Boyd, Adam Slovis, Benjamin Orgel, Jay Lindy, Michael McLaughlin, Orgel Family LP and Three Madison Partners.
Berlin Boyd is the City Councilor for District Seven.
Adam Slovis is a realtor and was Berlin Boyd’s employer from 2008 until Boyd’s realtor’s license expired in July 2014. Slovis and Associates acquires cell tower sites for Tower Ventures.
Benjamin Orgel is William Orgel’s son. Orgel senior is principal of Tower Ventures, which owns cell towers. He is on the SCS board and is one of the biggest political donors in Shelby County.
Jay Lindy is an attorney, and COO and general counsel for Tower Ventures.
Micheal McLaughlin is the controller at Tower Ventures.
Orgel Family LP is William and Benjamin Orgel’s investment company.
Three Madison Partners is the previous owner of the site at 1544 Madison. It is thought to be connected to Boyle Investments, who are mentioned in the 1544 Madison deeds.
Berlin Boyd’s Tower Contributions
Berlin Boyd received the following contributions from the above investors between 2014 and 2017: 2/20/2014: Steven (Exec VP for Asset Development at Tower) and Sharon Chandler; Craig (Exec VP for Carrier Leasing at Tower) and Cathy Weiss; Bill and Robin Orgel; Jay Lindy; Craig Royal (VP for Construction and Operations at Tower); and Adam Slovis donate a total of $11,950 to Boyd’s County campaign. All contributions from this section are from the Shelby County Election Commission.
April 2014: Jay Lindy donates $500 to Boyd
March-April 2015: six Tower executives / spouses donate $8,500 to Boyd 2015 District 7 campaign
October 2015: six Tower executives / spouses donate $9,000 to Boyd District 7 campaign for the runoff
6/1/2017: Benjamin, William and Robin Orgel, Susan Lindy, Adam Slovis and Sharon Chandler donate $6500 to Boyd.
7/13/2017: Cathy Weiss and Craig Royal donate $2000 to Boyd.
Total donations in this period from Tower associates: $39,450.
There were additional donations in kind for the 6/1/2017 fundraiser at Bill and Robin Orgel’s house.
The Tennessee Brewery is an Orgel development. The site, at 495 Tennessee St, was bought by 495 Tennessee LLC which was owned by William Orgel on November 5th 2014. The Commercial Appeal also named Jay Lindy and Adam Slovis as partners. The Commercial Appeal tells the story of the development. The former Goldcrest 51 brewery, built in the 1870s, closed in 1954 and has been vacant since the 1980s. A succession of previous owners ending with The Tennessee Brewery LLC, had spent millions stabilizing the structure but on 11/5/2014 495 Tennessee Partners bought the property for $850K, in a predatory purchase. On 2/10/2015 495 Tennessee Partners bought a parking garage site across Tennessee St. and assembled incentives: parking garage funding, PILOT tax abatement, federal historic preservation tax credits and a city grant to replacing century-old utility infrastructure. Berlin Boyd was helpful with these City boons. Another site north of the Brewery was also acquired for additional apartments.
Boyd Helps Tennessee Brewery
On 5/19/2015 Berlin Boyd voted at City Council for a $5,191,125, City Center Revenue Finance Corporation loan for Tennessee Brewery Parking Garage, in which CCRFC borrows from First Tennessee Bank , builds the parking garage and leases it to the Tennessee Brewery. The loan is to be repaid from the PILOT. Boyd did not recuse himself from this vote.
On 5/26/2015, Boyd seconds and votes for a $2.5M capital grant to MLGW after Orgel makes a presentation to the Budget Committee. The grant was for improving utility infrastructure at Tennessee Brewery. Boyd did not recuse himself from this vote.
6/23/2015 Boyd votes at City Council for the budget containing the $2.5M MLGW line item, for Tennessee Brewery. Boyd did not recuse himself from this vote.
5/12/2016: Downtown Memphis Commission (DMC) approves $28.1M PILOT for Tennessee Brewery.
3/8/2018 LUCB approves street closures for 1544 Madison, minutes (pdf). Boyd was present during that meeting, although not a current member of LUCB.
Berlin Boyd’s access at DMC
We obtained Open Records DMC emails from Boyd and from DMC to Boyd showing that Boyd and DMC executives were in constant communication, attended meetings together and had casual coffee dates. It is clear that Boyd’s Council status provided him immediate top-level access at DMC.
Other Things Boyd did for Bill Orgel.
10/10/2013: LUCB (Land Use Control Board). Boyd votes for 3 Tower-affiliated cell towers (pdf).
11/18/2013: LUCB: (Land Use Control Board). Boyd votes for 3 Tower-affiliated cell towers. (pdf) Boyd voted for many more of these cell towers without recusing himself, literally too many to count.
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. Boyd also voted for an Orgel cell tower on 4/1/2015.
The Snuff Factory
On 17/1/2016 Bill Orgel bought a vacant property at the northeast corner of Keel and N. Main for $250,000. Deed 1 Deed 2 (pdf), trading as Keel Steet LLC, with the same Viscount Ave corporate address as the other Orgel businesses.
This site is a couple of blocks north of the Pinch District, which is undergoing major redevelopment, with Bass Pro and the $9 Billion St Jude expansion. Berlin Boyd applied to the State of Tennessee to expand the Tourism Development Zone northwards. He has been promoting the Pinch redevelopment plan since late 2015. It is still to be seen what will happen at The Snuff Factory, but Boyd and Orgel are on the job.
EDGE and the 1544 Madison Development
1/1/2016 Berlin Boyd became the City Council representative on the EDGE board for calendar 2016. EDGE minutes.
2/2/2016 Boyd has a dispute with EDGE board chairman Reid Dulberger over minority contracts by PILOT recipients. Dulberger responded with a report at the February 17th Edge meeting with some numbers on minority and women contracts by PILOT recipients. The Boyd / Dulburger dispute seemed to recede after this, although some commentators say that the dispute provided Boyd with some leverage over Dulberger and the EDGE board. During Boyd’s year as City Council rep on EDGE, he was not marked present at a single EDGE board meeting, although the access that was granted him as a board member placed him in an excellent position to lobby the EDGE Board and employees.
2/28/2017 1544 Madison Partners buys the Madison Avenue property.
10/02/2017 PILOT applied for 1544 Madison.
10/19/2017 $6,177,765 PILOT granted for 1544 Madison, showing $24,775,069 in capital investment
2/12/2018: Smart City writes on EDGE’s “loosest slots in town”, questioning the need for more residential PILOTs. Downtown and Midtown are in the midst of a residential property boom, occasioned by the City’s decision to discontinue new sewer connections in the County. Residential PILOTs are far outside the norm for local government, and, as the announcement of the cessation of new sewer hookups dates only from August 2017, adding a redundant stimulus without first assessing the effect of the sewer impetus is irresponsible. The only proven benefit of residential PILOTs are a tax handout to the property owners.
3/8/2018 LUCB approves street closures for 1544 Madison, minutes (pdf). Boyd was present during that meeting, although not a current member of LUCB.
Berlin Boyd’s access at EDGE.
Boyd’s dealings at EDGE has given him a lot of access to their highest policy-making levels. We received Berlin Boyd’s email log (pdf) from EDGE via Open Records Request. He received 76 emails between September 2016 and March 2018, mostly invitations to Board meetings, EDGE Performance Review meetings and ED Finance Committee meetings. While Boyd was not marked present at any EDGE meetings we can find, a second Open Records request produced these eleven emails between 2015 and 2017 with additional meeting appointments. Boyd met, at City Hall, First Tennessee Bank, University of Memphis and EDGE, with EDGE management, including Reid Dulberger and Carmen Franklin. It is clear that Berlin Boyd had almost unrestricted access to EDGE board members from January 2106 to present, during the critical time when EDGE was considering residential PILOTs and specifically the pilot granted for 1544 Madison Partners in October 2017. Boyd was a super-lobbyist for 1544 Madison Partners.
Berlin Boyd’s relationship with Slovis, Orgel and their associates and ventures dates from at least 2008. Boyd received over $39K and other political donations from them. He voted on Council four times for over $10M of benefits to Tennessee brewery, and at LUCB and Council for at least eight Orgel cell tower permits. He has met with DMC executives many times in the course of his official business.
He was an EDGE board member and met numerous times with EDGE executives during a time when EDGE changed policy to allow residential PILOTs and when EDGE granted a $6.1M PILOT to a venture of which he is a partner.
He voted for an Orgel cell tower in September 2017 when Boyd and Orgel were partners, without recusing himself.
A question for Berlin Boyd.
Berlin Boyd. You have been in a position to influence the granting of valuable benefits to your partners in 1544 Madison. Can you show us a cashed check for the amount of your investment in 1544 Madison? Edge valued the investment at $24,775,069. Did you pay the $4.12M that your one sixth share is worth?
If that was a freebie, please explain exactly what you did for 1544 Madison Partners and its individual partners to deserve such a valuable boon?
CORRECTION: 7/5/2018. We removed a photo of Reid Hedgepeth and an incorrect reference to his company. We inserted an additional item related to a $2,250,000 contract for infrastructure work at Tennessee brewery for which Boyd voted on 12/15/2015. Apologies to all concerned.
By Stephanie Diane Ford and Fergus Nolan
Guerrero is a U of M graduate who was separated from West Point after undergoing mandatory counseling.
Prior to Libertas, Adam Guerrero was an SCS high school teacher, but he was let go from Raleigh Egypt and from Pathways in Education charter school due to failure to meet professional requirements. Libertas is an ASD school and Adam Guerrero also ran the permaculture program there.
This story is difficult for us because Adam Guerrero is seen as a part of a loose social justice movement, and many activists see these disclosures as divisive. We normally fry bigger fish, but Guerrero gets support and cash from the community and his activities are very different to the narrative he projects.
In this post, we look at:
- Adam Guerrero’s nine, mostly blighted, lots in North Memphis, with emphasis on his Shasta and Clyde Ave. locations,
- How he raised funds for North Memphis Farmers Collective and Grow Memphis and appropriated funds and assets from those fundraising efforts.
- How he skirts tax and employment law for his, often young, employees, and how he maintains unsafe workplaces for these young workers.
- He has prominently featured Black people in his promotional material and fundraising, although his one remaining site overseer is a white supremacist.
- Rather than combating blight, the Adam Guerrero property empire has seen an increase in blight around some of his lots,
- his many former apprentices, interns and other unpaid help have not had a career benefit from their association with SmartMule.
We view SmartMule and Adam Guerrero as a concern, because his victims have included workers and neighborhoods in some of the most vulnerable communities in Memphis.
Adam Guerrero’s Property Empire
Adam owns these properties in his own name. Click the links for photographs , documents and detailed site descriptions.
- 2267 Shasta: Guerreo obtained this lot through a $1 deed transfer from Memphis Tilth, a community oriented non-profit land cooperative. This property is severely blighted, unsafe, has a suspected racist squatter, and uses child labor.
- 0 Decatur: This industrial-zoned lot hosts the St Jude composting operation, see below.
- 0 Shasta: An untended and unimproved blighted lot. Nearby City-mowed lots are neater and trash free.
- 0 Clyde: An unimproved garbage-strewn and uneven lot which encroaches on Lucille Price Park.
- 0 and 2250 Hunter: Gardened and well maintained by neighboring residents.
- 2296 Hunter: An untended and unimproved blighted lot attracting local blight.
- 1107 and 1113 Breedlove: An untended and unimproved blighted lot with garbage and dogs.
Guerrero was formerly a Garden Leader and board member of Grow Memphis, which is now Memphis Tilth. SmartMule LLC is a member of North Memphis Farmers Collective. His level of involvement has recently been much lower than the 2015 peak, due to disputes with members of these organizations.
His total investment of $811 for the nine plantation lots has produced an assessor’s valuation of $39,100. All of the lots, except for the 2550 Hunter lots, are untended, contain blight and some are also hazardous to workers, local residents and the environment. Guerrero also owns his Townes Ave residence, which is now often unoccupied since his recent move to Frayser.
Guerrero’s level of involvement significantly declined after the 2015 peak due to disputes with member farmers. All original members of the Collective no longer collaborate significantly with or have ended business associations with Adam, after SmartMule took over the Kickstarter and most of its proceeds.
Guerrero was taken to court in 2011 for bad odors from improperly maintained compost bins; standing water, which was acting as breeding grounds for mosquitoes; alleged rat infestation and other pest-related issues at his Townes Ave. home. He answered his neighbor’s and Code Enforcement’s case with a social media blitz, and by parading three young African American children in court.
Guerrero was found guilty of failure to cut grass and failure to remove personal property in Environmental court, fined and assessed costs, on 11/29/2017. Case # 17501410, Shelby Co.
The Shasta Plantation
The property at 2267 Shasta Ave consists of one plot owned by Adam Guerrero, another owned by the city, and several owned by Sylvester Sullivan, an African American neighbor, on which a broken-down travel trailer is parked. It backs onto Cypress Creek at the southern edge of the property. Prior to purchasing his lot, Guerrero erected a fence around the entire area, seizing his neighbor’s land. An altercation over land rights, during which police were called, (pdf) occurred during this time.
As can be seen from the photographs, the plantation at 2267 Shasta is strewn with garbage and overgrown weeds. The broken down travel trailer has no water or sanitary connections. We are unaware of how human sewage from the trailer’s resident and from on-site workers, and slurry from the animals on the site, are handled to keep the adjoining Cypress Creek safe from contamination. There are also workplace safety hazards in the form of piles of construction junk, including boards with protruding nails, fencing material with cut wire ends, chemicals and the unfenced Cypress Creek.
This photo from County Register records, shows Adam Guerrero’s lot outlined in blue, with the hoop house mostly on County-owned property to the south.
This hoop house was purchased with the help of a $20,000 grant from Rhodes College to Grow Memphis, now Memphis Tilth. A chicken house to the east is also on County land. The hoop house and other improvements transferred to Adam Guerrero with the property title.
Failure to remove property from County land is an offense.
Andy Panda, Shasta Plantation Overseer
The occupant of the trailer is Andrew Burkett, who uses the pseudonym Andy Panda. He regularly propagates anti Semitic and white supremacist propaganda.
These pictures show Andy Panda with child laborers at Shasta. The water is taken unpaid from a city supply on the street. (Photo credit Facebook)
Although Panda regularly oversees unpaid black children on the Shasta plantation, he uses racial slurs in his speech and social media postings.
These children are psychically and physically endangered at Plantation Shasta.
The Decatur Plantation and the St Jude Composting contract.
SmartMule signed a composting contract with St Jude Children’s Research Hospital in September 2016. The project involved building compost bins at Guerrero’s 0 Decatur property. Free and low wage labor from Black male youth was used for clearing the Decatur property and compost bin construction.
These photographs show young workers building compost bins with Adam Guerrero, and a tree-clearing crew at Decatur. (Photo credit: Facebook)
This purported North Memphis Farmers’ Collective Mailchimp post has some editorial about this project but also some authentic-looking contract documentation showing the amount SmartMule charges for this work, and the income deriving to Guerrero’s SmartMule LLC. The child in the bin-building picture is not equipped with protective equipment or gloves in a hazardous work environment. The tree clearing crew are not equipped with hi-vis vests or safety equipment. We assume they are not covered by workman’s comp as required for even small construction firms.
At Decatur: Bin with broken end; bin with broken side and shredded paper; broken glass hazard; bin with exposed nails. (Photos: Fergus Nolan)
The St Jude contract, with a nominal value of $48K annually, was signed in September 2016 and compostingwork has recently started. Although several thousand dollars were paid to Smartmule, the Decatur property only contains a small amount of shredded paper trash, and none of the food waste envisioned in the contract. The two employees planned in the Smartmule projections have not been hired.
Smartmule’s Labor Payment Policies
Smartmule uses a large number of unpaid and underpaid, mostly Black children, and some adults on its plantations. These are variously referred to as “apprentices”, “interns”, Guerrero’s Guerillas or the Mules.
In this post on SmartMule’s Facebook page, Guerrero refers to an “apprentice” he has had for “nearly ten years”. He also refers to an incident in which some students, who had been lounging unsupervised at Guerrero’s home, had been involved in an alleged assault on SmartMule manager Stephanie Ford, who was his girlfriend at the time.
Note: the following Facebook quotes were made on a thread on Fergus Nolan’s home page. Adam Guerrero’s Facebook presence is currently suspended but the screen snips were taken on the dates noted.
SmartMule LLC is a single owner LLC #000794077 at the Tennessee SOS. Adam Guerrero said:
An LLC is a for profit entity. It files no financial disclosures, such as Form 990, as required by non-profits.
SmartMule is claimed to be a co-operative, but it is ruled by Adam Guerrero without any input from its workers.
Adam Guerrero runs his for-profit LLC as a regular business and “passed” on including his people in the decision-making process.
SmartMule LLC uses or has used the labor of numerous children and some adults. Many of these children are students or former students. When asked if he paid these children, Adam Guerrero is evasive and said he did not report their earnings to the IRS. We assume no W2s were filed, social security or medicare, workman’s comp as required for all construction work, unemployment insurance or sales tax.
Among SmartMule’s fundraising, this Kickstarter raised over $11K. The fundraiser was nominally for North Memphis Farmer’s Collective, but used Smartmule’s email and bank accounts. This SmartMule bank statement shows a $10,152.21 transfer to SmartMule from Kickstarter in August 2015. The bulk of the money was used to buy a tractor and accessories, against the wishes of the other NMFC members. This tractor is in the possession of Adam Guerrero, who stores it at 0 Decatur and uses it for City contract work mowing the Shelby Farms Greenline.
Adam Guerrero also received $3,500 from Memphis Tilth when they deeded the 2267 Shasta lot to him in September 2017.
While still owned by Grow Memphis, a $20,000 grant from Rhodes College was used to develop the 2267 Shasta lot, which “improvements” were transferred to Adam Guerrero’s personal ownership when he was deeded the Shasta plantation. As this hoop house, and a nearby chicken house, are mostly located on City property, this structure is subject to removal of personal property orders from the City.
Adam Guerrero is evasive when asked if he had parental release forms or other paperwork on the kids who worked for him.
Stephanie Diane Ford, a former unpaid SmartMule manager, said:
Consistent with historical patterns of resource expropriation, Adam Guerrero has been using the images, knowledge and labor of black people to obtain resources (grants, sales income, employment income, income tax deductions and land transfers (via Memphis Tilth)) for more than 10 years with no measurable improvements to the socio-economic status of any black people he has ever worked with or claimed to be helping. (Facebook, 11/29/2017).
Adam Guerrero and/or SmartMule uses young Black men and children for agricultural and construction work, and for eye candy in their publicity materials.
He maintains hazardous workplaces, does not provide appropriate safety equipment, and employs Andy Panda, an abusive racist as an overseer of young Black children.
He does not file required employment tax, sales tax, social security, medicare or workman’s comp for his enterprise.
He represents his for-profit enterprise as a charity or a co-operative, soliciting funds and managing public opinion via a heavy-handed social media presence.
His Shasta Ave. plantation is strewn with garbage and is an environmental risk factor for the nearby Cypress Creek. This and other Guerrero properties have been reported to Code Enforcement many times. All his properties, except for 2250 Hunter, are blighted, contain garbage and are improperly maintained and mowed.
The neighborhoods he operates in were already fragile, blighted and savaged by unemployment before he bought in. Now they’re worse and many pockets are lighter.
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.
These photos: Kemp Conrad and Brian Stephens, Philip Spinosa and Stevens, and Stevens with Bill Morrison are on Brian Stephens’ Facebook page. Conrad is wearing a “We need Reid” button, suggesting that the event was a Reid Hedgepeth function during the 2015 campaign cycle. This confirms that, even though Hedgepeth did not retain Caissa Public Strategy for his campaign, that he is a fully-fledged member of 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.
Brian Stephens and Gene Bryan of Caissa, with Terry Roland at a deannexation meeting in 2016.
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.
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.
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.
Rebuild Government from Memphis Business Journal
Rebuild Government from WMC TV5
Channel 3 on the MPA billboards issue with Stephens on the panel.
Daily News discusses Caissa.
Brian Stephens ran for City Council in 2007. Election Commission has no records.
CEOs For Cities puff piece on Stephens
Stephens is involved in Leadership Memphis
Stephens wrote a book.
Stephens did a 180 from City County merger in 2010 to deannexation in 2017.
Memphis Business Journal article.
Photographer John Pittman quotes Brian Stephens “workout…so vigorous it had made him vomit”.
Memphis Chamber of Commerce features Caissa.
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.
Paige Walkup Links
Rebuild Government from Memphis Business Journal
Memphis Business Journal profile.
Memphis Connect interview.
Board Member at BLDG Memphis
The Health, Educational and Housing Facility Board Memphis.
Brian Stephens.* Paige Walkup,* Rick Masson. Gene Bryan.* Mae (nee Yearwood) Bennett.** Jessica Massey. Jacob Ellerbee. Mary (nee Tanner) Joseph.* Jasmine Pena. * Jessica Muntz.** Photos. Eric Saffold, Mykila Miller, Adrian Bond and Raquel Hinson are now included on the Caissa site, but all bios are now blocked or not included on the site.
*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.
Berlin Boyd rebutted on Facebook.
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.
Ryan Poe posted the news, while the meeting was still in progress. This story went big in the media. Otis Sanford on WREG Channel 3. The Flyer posted, as did Bernal Smith in the TSD, neatly summing up.
Draining the Swamp
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.