Former TN Rep. Robin Smith facing federal wire fraud charges

Published: Mar. 7, 2022 at 12:02 PM CST|Updated: Mar. 7, 2022 at 1:32 PM CST
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - State Rep. Robin Smith has resigned from her House seat after being charged with wire fraud in federal court in Nashville.

In a letter to House Speaker Cameron Sexton, Smith said that she is “resigning from House 26 effective immediately.” District 26 is in Hamilton County.

The charge against Smith was filed on Friday in the Middle District of Tennessee.

According to documents filed on Monday, Smith has reached a plea agreement to resolve the charges, and she is ready to change her plea. The plea hearing will be held on Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. at the federal courthouse in Nashville.

Smith and several other House members had their offices inside the Cordell Hull Building searched by federal agents last year.

State Rep. Robin Smith has resigned from her House seat after being charged with wire fraud in federal court in Nashville.

According to the charging document, Smith helped others, including two unnamed individuals believed to be former Speaker of the House Glen Casada and his former chief of staff Cade Cothren, devised and intended to devise a scheme to defraud and deprive the citizens of the Middle District of Tennessee and the government of Tennessee of their right to the honest services of a public official, namely the honest services of Smith and Casada, members of the Tennessee House of Representatives, through kickbacks.

According to the charging document, the unnamed Individual 1 was a member of the Tennessee House, first elected in 2003 and served as Speaker of the Tennessee House from around January 2019 until around August 2019 when he resigned as Speaker after a scandal became public. The unnamed individual 2 was a businessman and former Chief of Staff to Individual 1 when he was Tennessee House Speaker.

Cothren set up Phoenix Solutions, LLC, with Smith and Casada’s knowledge, according to court records, for the purpose of offering mail and consulting services for legislative members facing primary challengers and was later expanded to offer constituents mail services to members of the Tennessee General Assembly. Smith, Casada and Cothren told others, including members of the Tennessee General Assembly and the House Speaker’s Office that the company was run by Matthew Phoenix. They claimed that “Phoenix” was an experienced political consultant who had worked for a Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm. The charging document says that Cothren ran Phoenix Solutions and Smith, Casada and Cothren all profited from it.

The charging document alleges that Smith and Casada concealed Cothren’s involvement in the company from the state and legislators due to the expectation that Phoenix Solutions would not be approved by the Tennessee House Speaker’s Office, acting on behalf of the State, or hired as a vendor by individual members if Cothren’s involvement was disclosed. Smith, Casada and Cothren also concealed the fact that Cothren kicked back a portion of the profits from the state and members of the General Assembly to Smith and Casada due to the expectation that Phoenix Solutions would not be approved by the Tennessee House Speaker’s Office or hired by individual members if Cothren’s operational involvement and financial interests in the business and the kickbacks to Smith and Casada were disclosed.

The charging document claims that Smith and Casada received kickbacks from Cothren in exchange for using their positions as members of the Tennessee House of Representatives to perform official acts, including pressuring the Tennessee House Speaker’s Office to approve Phoenix Solutions as a mailer program vendor and disburse state funds to the company.

In or around January 2020, Smith was informed by an employee of the House Speaker’s office that the Speaker’s Office needed to work directly with the third-party vendor, which was a change in the existing guidelines employed by legislative members for constituent mail. Smith informed Cothren of this. Cothren was notified the state could not pay Phoenix Solutions with an Internal Revenue Service Form W-9 on file. In response, according to the charging document, Cothren, assuming the identity of Matthew Phoenix, sent a W-9 signed by Phoenix from the email address to the Tennessee House Majority Caucus Advisor for the purpose of filing it with the state.

Casada announced last year that he would not run for re-election for his House seat in Williamson County. Instead, he filed a petition to run for County Clerk in Williamson County.

When federal authorities searched the offices of Casada, Smith, Kent Calfee and Todd Warner and the homes of Casada, Cothren and Smith. Warner’s business was also raided.

Sexton issued a statement Monday afternoon on the investigation and Smith’s resignation:

“More than a year ago, federal authorities started an investigation into public corruption. Today’s news and the ultimate resignation of Rep. Smith is a sad day for all who know her.

I commend the Federal Bureau of Investigation for their diligence, hard work, and dedication throughout this investigation.

It is clear in the charging documents that certain individuals used their official capacity to target General Assembly members and the Republican Caucus by using a fake company to siphon off money illegally and deceptively.

I will continue to cooperate fully with federal authorities as the investigation continues which has been the case since I became speaker in 2019.

Due to this being an ongoing investigation, I will reserve any further comments as the FBI continues their pursuit to stop public corruption.”

House Speaker Cameron Sexton

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