Representative Robin Smith resigns over wire fraud charge over Phoenix Solutions ‘kickbacks’ – Tennessee Lookout


(This story has been updated with new details.)

Rep. Robin Smith, one of three House members raided by the FBI 14 months ago, resigned Monday morning after federal authorities charged her with wire fraud, saying she received “bribes -de-vin” from an illicit countryside seller.

Smith is expected to amend his plea on Tuesday as part of a settlement in federal court.

Federal authorities filed charges Friday against Smith, a Republican from Hixson who ran a political consulting business while serving in the House. Smith said last year she was not the target of the FBI investigation, but the record proves otherwise.

Neither Representative Glen Casada nor his former chief of staff Cade Cothren are named in the indictment, but are presumably mentioned.

Phoenix Solutions, a bogus vendor set up by Cothren with knowledge of Smith and Casada, received more than $202,000 in payments from House Republicans before being scrutinized, as well as payments for freelance expenses of two Senate campaigns, the Tennessee Lookout previously reported. Casada, who also ran a political fundraising company after leaving the presidency, is not named in the filing but is identified as the former Speaker of the House from January to August 2019.

Phoenix Solutions, however, brought in $158,165 from campaign accounts and $51,947 from email programs, according to the filing. Both Smith and Individual 2 earned at least $4,143, according to the filing.

The House Republican Caucus donated $48,000 to Phoenix Solutions for Shippers through the Tennessee Republican Party.

The Speaker’s Office confirmed Monday afternoon that Smith had resigned. House Speaker Cameron Sexton praised the FBI for its efforts in the investigation, calling it a “sad day” for those who know Smith.

“It is clear from 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 siphon off money,” said Sexton in a statement. “I will continue to fully cooperate with federal authorities as the investigation continues, which has been the case since I became president in 2019.”

FBI agents converged on the Cordell Hull Building on January 8, 2021 and searched the offices of Smith, Casada, State Representative Todd Warner, in addition to passing through their homes. They also raided Cothren’s house.

Smith dodged questions last year about Phoenix Solutions, a New Mexico-based company that used the same Chattanooga ZIP code, 383, for Warner campaign materials and a political action committee called the Faith Family Freedom Fund. to make attack ads against the former representative. Rick Tillis, who was critical of Casada and Cothren.

The filing states that Individual 2 formed Phoenix Solutions in November 2019 with the knowledge and support of Smith and Individual 2 “for the purpose of providing mail and advisory services to legislative members facing major challengers. and was later expanded to provide courier services to members of the Tennessee General. Assembly.”

Smith and Individual 2 told lawmakers the company was run by “Matthew Phoenix” and claimed he was “an experienced political consultant who had worked for” a bona fide consulting firm in Washington, D.C. Smith and Individual 1 knew that Matthew Phoenix “was a fictional person”. and was truly Individual 2, the record states.

“In truth and in fact, (Cothren) directed Phoenix Solutions and Smith and (Cothren) profited from it,” the filing reads.

Robin Smith 1

Prosecutors say Smith and Casada hid Cothren’s position because they didn’t believe the seller would otherwise be approved. They also “kickbacked” Cothren for using their duties as a member of the Legislative Assembly to perform official acts, “including pressuring the office of the Speaker of the Tennessee House to approve Phoenix Solutions as the mail program provider and provides state funds to Phoenix Solutions”.

In January 2020, Smith informed Person 2 that the House Speaker’s office wanted to work directly with Phoenix Solutions and that the state could not pay the company without a W-9 form. Individual 2 – gain, presumably Cothren – then sent a W-9 signed by “Matthew Phoenix”, according to the file.

Just a month earlier, Smith had told Individual 2 that he might have to “reprise the role of Matthew.” He replied, “Matthew shows up at work!” and included an image of a salute from Star Wars character Han Solo.

Individual 2 told Smith that he started Phoenix Solutions in New Mexico because that state allows limited liability companies to be registered anonymously, the filing shows. He set up a U.S. Postal Service post office box there and forwarded mail to his home address in Nashville.

Smith and Casada continued to cover up Cothren’s involvement in the company, which went underground shortly after the Feds raid.

Tillis’ campaign manager filed a complaint earlier with the Election Finance Registry, alleging illegal coordination between the Faith Family Freedom Fund and the Warner campaign.

Representative Glen Casada, R-Franklin, pictured during a 2021 special legislative session. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Casada last week denied any ties to the Faith Family Freedom Fund after an ex-girlfriend of Cothren’s told the Election Finances Record that she formed the PAC at Cothren’s request so he could lead it , allowing him to do business without attracting negative attention following a scandal. in the Casada administration.

Casada previously told Tennessee Lookout that he had no connection to Phoenix Solutions. He also said he was “lost” why the FBI raided his home and office.

In January 2020, Smith and Cothren concocted a chain of letters to make it look like the vendor was complaining about not getting paid. Smith sent the president’s acting chief of staff Cameron Sexton an email asking why Phoenix Solutions hadn’t received payments for the work, then lied about who was running the company, according to the filing.

“It was the guys from {Consulting Firm 1} who mailed two years ago that left and started their own gig… tired of doing DC/Trump stuff. Thank you.” She forwarded the chain of emails to Cothren and added the message, “Shhhhhhhhh.”

In June 2020, Cothren and his girlfriend, who used the name “Candice,” started an email exchange to make it look like they were employees of Phoenix Solutions and needed to be paid, according to the filing.

Smith repeated false claims about the company and a move from Phoenix to New Mexico in an effort to get paid. She also falsely claimed that she hadn’t made any money with Phoenix Solutions, according to the filing.

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