An ABC producer used her credentials to create fake hit pieces on local politicians in Florida while pocketing thousands from a political lobbying firm, a report said.
Freelance producer Kristen Hentschel — who mostly worked for “Good Morning America” — was paid at least $14,350 by Alabama-based political consulting firm Matrix LLC to sandbag the environmentally friendly politicians with bogus questions, according to a report released Wednesday by NPR and Floodlight, an “environmental news collaborative.”
Hentschel claimed to be working for ABC while filming the hit piece. The company said she had not been assigned to the story.
“Kristen Hentschel was a freelance daily hire who never worked for ABC News on the political stories referenced in the NPR article,” the network said in a statement.
Hentschel, who has been fired from the network, primarily did freelance work for “Good Morning America,” the same show plagued by rumors of an affair between hosts Amy Robach and T.J. Holmes.
According to the report, Hentschel began her political espionage on behalf of Matrix in 2016. She was hired by ABC News as a freelance news reporter a few weeks later.
In July 2018, she asked then-candidate for Florida House of Representatives Toby Overdorf about the alleged discovery of 20 gopher tortoises, an endangered species, found dead at a nearby construction site. Hentschel showed him an ABC business card.
Overdorf, who was working at the site as an environmental engineer, told Hentschel he didn’t know what she was talking about and denied the discovery.
The interview was posted to the website of the Alabama-based Center for Sustainability and Conservation, which listed Hentschel as its media contact. Matrix had paid the center at least $55,000 through a related business, according to the consulting firm’s ledgers.
A city investigation later found there were no dead tortoises at the site and none had ever been there.
Matrix LLC paid Hentschel at least $7,000 for the job, according to its internal ledgers. The firm later billed sugar conglomerate Florida Crystals and Florida Power & Light for her work. Both companies would have suffered from progressive policies Overdorf promised to bring to the Sunshine State.
“It was an attack ad against my livelihood, my family,” Overdorf told NRP. “And it was something that potentially could last far beyond my time running for office.”
Hentschel reportedly played the same trick again a month later: In August 2018, she called then-South Miami Mayor Phil Stoddard as an ABC reporter and began pressing him about a since-settled lawsuit against his family. Parents sued Stoddard — a biologist who pushed for solar panels — after their teenager was hospitalized after attending a party at Stoddard’s house.
Two weeks later, Matrix paid Hentschel $2,000 for what was itemized as a “Miami shoot,” the report revealed. Matrix also hired a private detective to investigate Stoddard’s personal life and Matrix-linked nonprofits spent six figures trying to knock him out of office, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
In 2020, Hentschel pressed aides of Florida Rep. Brian Mast, a conservative who pushes for strengthening water quality, on jokes about rape and sex with teenagers he made to a friend on Facebook a decade earlier, but the aides didn’t let her approach him.
Weeks later, Hentschel made her way into Mast’s home within a gated community and told his wife she was reporting on behalf of ABC, even forking over a company business card, NPR reported. Mast later filed a trespassing report with the police and complained about Hentschel’s actions to ABC.
Its political director, Rick Klein, told Mast that Hentschel was not there for the network.
Matrix also paid conservative news sites in exchange for favorable coverage of its clients, NPR and Floodlight’s report revealed. The firm has been accused in recent months of influencing ballot initiatives, running ghost candidates, and more.
Matrix’s founder, Joe Perkins, told NPR he did know of Hentschel’s work for his company and claims the firm’s former CEO Jeff Pitts could be to blame.439
Pitts was the one to hire Hentschel and shortly thereafter carried out an affair with her, the report alleges. Hentschel was famously outed by the National Enquirer as a mistress of former “To Catch a Predator” host Chris Hansen in 2011.
Pitts left Matrix in 2020, the same year as Hentschel’s last reported espionage, citing “unethical business practices” like surveilling clients, which Perkins said occurred under Pitts’ own directives.