Unfit for Print: An angel investor pitches in to salvage the reputation of a St. Louis publisher

Unfit for Print: An angel investor pitches in to salvage the reputation of a St. Louis publisher
Bill Hippert
Matt Mathison (center) at the party celebrating the launch of the now-defunct Avid flanked by editor Dan Michel (right) and investor Richard Riney.

The downtown launch party for The 9s, a new St. Louis men's magazine, was the place to be on January 9. Cardinals third baseman David Freese showed up that night at Jim Edmonds 15 Steakhouse. So did several Rams players, plus fashion designer Ola Hawatmeh and local social-media stars Chris Reimer and Aaron Perlut. As flashbulbs flickered, revelers mingled with the young co-publishers: pro baseball player Bobby Keppel and his wife, Suzanne.

Yet one magazine staffer was hiding in plain sight, a native St. Louisan whose reputation is so toxic that on the masthead he goes by a pseudonym: "Executive Editor Matthew Morton." His real name is George Bertram "Matt" Mathison IV.

"The 9s wouldn't be here without Matt," confirms The 9s editor in chief Kim Gordon. "But the focus of our efforts is producing The 9s; it's not about the past. That's why Matt didn't want to put his real name out there. He wanted to protect Bobby and Suzanne from that."

Co-publishers Suzanne and Bobby Keppel at The 9s launch party in St. Charles.
Steve Truesdell
Co-publishers Suzanne and Bobby Keppel at The 9s launch party in St. Charles.
Matt Holliday on the cover of The 9s first issue.
Steve Truesdell
Matt Holliday on the cover of The 9s first issue.

Over the past seven years, the 42-year-old Mathison has tried — and failed — to launch three different golf magazines, both in St. Louis and in Atlanta. In the process, he has left behind a trail of litigation, debts and bad blood.

His most recent attempt was Avid, a St. Louis publication geared toward affluent men and bankrolled by Richard Riney, son of Scottrade founder Rodger Riney. That venture disintegrated in 2011 amid bitter allegations of fraud and stealing. Riney declined to comment for this story through his attorney, Chris McDonough. But the lawyer himself didn't hesitate to sound off.

"He's a con man," McDonough says of Mathison. "That's not my opinion. That's an adjudicated fact."

Neither Keppel nor Mathison wished to talk at length about their personal relationship. And it's not entirely clear how much Keppel, a De Smet Jesuit High School grad and former first-round pick in the 2000 Major League Baseball draft, knows of Mathison's past. But both have hinted that behind the scenes of their magazine is the story of a baseball pitcher whose Catholic faith compels him to throw lifelines to people like Mathison.

"I made mistakes in my life," Mathison admits today. "With the Keppels, being good people is not something they just try to do — it's just something they are. And I've learned a lot from them."

The question is: Has he?

Dan Michel recalls his first meeting with the founders of Avid. In hindsight he also sees the warning signs.

It was the late summer of 2010. Richard Riney had asked the then 26-year-old Michel to stop by the St. Louis Bread Company in Brentwood to hear his new business idea. The two traveled in similar circles and had crossed paths while following the jam band Phish on tour. But at the meeting, it was a stranger with salt-and-pepper hair — Matt Mathison — who ended up doing most of the talking.

"He was very charismatic and passionate about what he wanted this magazine to be, and how he thought I could help," Michel says. "And he was very rushed to get things started."

At the time, Michel was writing ad copy for St. Louis Magazine. Mathison offered him a big step up: the editor in chief position of a golf magazine called Avid. He accepted.

Soon, Mathison, Michel and other contributors were gathering daily in an office complex in west county, hustling to put together a 100-page first issue. Riney very rarely came into the office, Michel says. But court records show he pumped in at least $125,000 before a single page was printed.

By November 2010 the inaugural issue was ready for release. Mathison hired the local PR firm Common Ground to throw a launch party, with a month's notice, at Bar Napoli in downtown Clayton. He bragged to them that Australian pro golfer Steve Elkington would show up, so they announced it in a press release. Elkington never showed.

Nevertheless, the party was "packed," recalls Denise Bentele, co-owner of Common Ground. "It was a huge success."

The hangover soon followed.

Despite repeated assurances from Mathison, Bentele couldn't get paid.

"Every day Matt had a story," she says. "The best was when he said his car overheated on the highway, and I think it was eight degrees outside. That was pretty funny." (Bentele's firm persisted and managed to collect.)

A free publication distributed at retailers, restaurants and golf courses, Avid generated all its revenue from advertising. But Michel says the first issue contained only a handful of paid ads. The rest were giveaways, and even securing those was a challenge.

Yet Mathison didn't appear too worried about money: He moved his family into a rented house in Ladue that was recently appraised at $778,200. (Court records indicate he was later evicted from that home and from two subsequent houses in Chesterfield for non-payment.)

For the spring 2011 fashion issue, Avid hired the high-end local photographer Tuan Lee to provide some art. Afterward, Lee complained about not receiving compensation. So did the Centro models who posed in the shoots. So did Avid's layout designers, based in Chicago. So did several writers and photographers.

"Everybody was coming to me," Michel recalls. Mathison promised his editor he was sending checks, and suggested the culprit might be errors at the bank or the post office.

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