Former Tennessee Rep. Robin Smith pleaded guilty Tuesday to a federal wire fraud charge, just days after she was formally implicated in a scheme prosecutors allege involves the former House speaker and the current representing Glen Casada.
Smith’s quick resignation on Monday and plea deal on Tuesday indicate she may be cooperating with federal investigators in a tougher investigation that engulfs Casada and his former top aide, Cade Cothren, who was forced out of politics. state following a scandal involving illegal drugs and racist and sexist texts. .
Federal prosecutors allege the trio in 2019 conspired to create and run a shadowy political consulting firm headed by Cothren, who assumed the false identity of Matthew Phoenix.
“There is no excuse,” Smith said in a statement after his guilty plea. “I intend to cooperate fully as a witness with the federal government and to do whatever I can to assist the government in this regard. I have resigned as a representative of the Tennessee House. I did out of respect for the honor of the Tennesseans, my commitment to public service over the past decades, and of course, my Christian faith.I believe in forgiveness and hope to earn yours over time.
A sentencing hearing in the case has been set for October.
Phoenix Solutions was originally created to provide services to legislators facing major challenges, but later expanded to act as a provider of the General Assembly’s Mail Services program. The program gives each legislator an annual stipend of $3,000 for voter direct mail campaigns.
Continued: Fake Employees and Kickbacks: What to Know About TN’s Latest Campaign Finance Scandal
Smith marketed the company to his colleagues at the State House, lying about his connection to the company and telling his colleagues a false story about Matthew Phoenix, according to court documents. Cothren then signed IRS forms as Phoenix, prosecutors say, in order to have Phoenix Solutions approved as a qualified vendor for the state.
Smith’s charging document refers to Casada and Cothren as Individuals 1 and 2, respectively. Neither returned a request for comment from the Tennessean, nor were charged in the case.
Continued: Tennessee Rep. Robin Smith resigns from legislature after wire fraud charge
Smith’s case is the first to come to light 14 months after FBI agents raided the offices and homes of several House lawmakers, including Smith, as part of a federal investigation.
House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, said Monday the investigation is ongoing.
“It is clear in the charging documents that certain individuals used their official capacity to target members of the General Assembly and the Republican Caucus using a bogus business to illegally and deceptively misappropriate funds,” a Sexton said in a statement. “I will continue to cooperate fully with federal authorities as the investigation continues, which has been the case since I became president in 2019.”
A 2020 Tennessean analysis found that Casada, Smith, and Rep. Todd Warner, R-Chapel Hill, all spent tens of thousands of campaign dollars with little-known companies with obscure origins in the months leading up to the 8 raids. January 2021.
The three spent $182,794 in campaign money with three businesses in the year before the raids, two of which were not registered with the Tennessee secretary of state. The third, Phoenix Solutions, was registered but under an agent service that conceals ownership details.
The Tennessee Election Finance Registry is also investigating Casada and Cothren for their ties to the Faith Family Freedom Fund PAC. The PAC treasurer testified in January that she opened the PAC for her then-boyfriend, Cothren, but said she was no longer involved in its operations.
On March 2, Cothren refused to appear after the Registry issued a subpoena. Cothren’s attorney said his client invoked his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination, according to a letter sent to the registry’s board.
Contact Melissa Brown at email@example.com.
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