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Key witness takes stand in Tennessee state senator’s embezzlement trial

Published: Sep. 20, 2021 at 8:32 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Week two of the trial against Katrina Robinson began with a large submission of evidence from the prosecution, 22 binders in total.

The contents inside were business transactions between Robinson and various companies between 2015 and 2019.

It’s been alleged that Robinson spent tens of thousands of federal grant dollars from the Health Resources Services Administration (HRSA), intended to support her nurse training business, The Healthcare Institute (THI), on personal purchases. Monday, the prosecution called their star witness to tie everything together for their case.

The prosecution called Victoria Howell to the stand just after 9:30 a.m.

Howell, a forensic accountant with the FBI, was assigned to the Robinson case in June 2019.

Over the course of the investigation, Howell sifted through thousands of pages, she said, of transaction records from the two accounts: the account that was receiving HRSA grant funds at Pinnacle Bank and the operating account for THI at Regions Bank.

Howell flagged several transactions and vendors in the Regions account statements from 2015 to 2019 as personal expenses or expenses that fell outside the parameters of how the grant money is supposed to be used.

Thousands were spent on Robinson’s personal student loans with Great Lakes Student Loans, personal debt payments with Capital One, Wells Fargo, and One Main Financial, tens of thousands spent on high-end accessories: Chanel sunglasses, Louis Vuitton handbags, and Gucci shoes, and thousands toward rent and supplies to her other two businesses, Celebrity Body Studio and Kool Kidz Sno Konez.

Howell also linked a $5,300 vacation to Jamaica to the Regions operating account, as well as an $800 cruise with Carnival.

The largest single transaction came from a $54,000 deposit to a SEP IRA, a personal retirement fund, with Pershing LLC.

One of the more noteworthy transactions came from a $2,300 receipt from an event at TPC Southwind, a golf course and country club in Memphis.

It was alleged in week one of the trial that Robinson used federal funds from this operating account to pay for part of her 2018 state Senate campaign.

The $2,300 TPC Southwind receipt was confirmed as a campaign event.

Every transaction that was flagged by Howell was mentioned, taking roughly seven hours, leaving the defense with hardly any time to cross-examine before it was time for court to adjourn for the day.

Of the 20 charges of theft, embezzlement, and wire fraud Robinson faces, four are for theft/embezzlement, one for every year Robinson received funding from HRSA (2015-2019).

The remaining 16 are for wire fraud.

As of last check, the prosecution hopes to rest their case Thursday, giving the defense their opportunity to advocate for Robinson’s innocence.

Though, the revelation of this information from the FBI leaves a steep hill to climb for the defense.

Court begins Tuesday at 9 a.m.

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