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Ex-Tennessee House speaker, staffer arrested on federal fraud charges

Federal investigators claim former Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada and an ex-legislator, who has since pleaded guilty, devised a scheme with a former staffer to steal funds from a constituent mailing program.

(CN) — Tennessee’s former speaker of the House was arrested by federal authorities Tuesday and charged with using his elected position in a conspiracy to funnel money to himself and others from a state program that receives federal funds.

State Representative Glen Casada, a Republican, was first elected to represent District 63 south of Nashville in 2003 and briefly served as House speaker for seven months in 2019, until allegations his chief of staff sent sexist and racist text messages became public. Casada still represents the 63rd District in the Tennessee House of Representatives.

The former staffer, Cade Cothren, was also arrested Tuesday and is charged in the 22-page indictment. Investigators allege that after Cothren’s resignation, he founded a political consulting company called Phoenix Solutions LLC with the intent of becoming the exclusive vendor for the Legislature’s constituent mailer program, which allows representatives to design and mail legislative updates and surveys to constituents. 

The indictment also implicates a second member of the Legislature identified as Individual 4. Both Casada and Individual 4 knew of Cothren’s ownership in Phoenix, prosecutors say, but they misled colleagues into believing the company was managed by someone else so they both could receive bribes and kickbacks as a result of the scheme. 

Based on the indictment’s description of Individual 4 as “a member of the Tennessee House, representing District 26 … first elected...in or around November 2018,” the unnamed co-conspirator is former State Representative Robin Smith, who pleaded guilty to a single charge of wire fraud related to the scheme earlier this year. Smith, also a Republican, resigned in March. 

Tuesday's indictment was not a surprise, as the FBI has been investigating the case since late 2020. In early 2021, investigators served search warrants at the homes of all three individuals. 

The filing alleges both Smith and Casada knew Cothren’s involvement with Phoenix would not be approved by the legislative fiscal office, so they represented that the company was actually managed by an individual named Matthew Phoenix, supposedly an experienced political consultant who had previously worked for a Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm, according to a Department of Justice news release

“In fact, Cothren operated Phoenix Solutions, and Casada, Cothren, and the other conspirator allegedly knew that ‘Matthew Phoenix’ was a fictitious person and secretly profited from the fraudulent venture," the release states. "Casada, Cothren, and the other conspirator allegedly concealed their involvement in Phoenix Solutions by submitting sham invoices to the State of Tennessee in the names of political consulting companies owned by Casada and the other conspirator, for the purpose of secretly funneling money from the State to Phoenix Solutions through the bank accounts of these companies.”

Those involved in the conspiracy received approximately $51,947 from the state in payments associated with the mailer program, according to federal prosecutors. The indictment counts 20 charges including conspiracy, bribery, wire fraud and money laundering.

If convicted, Casada, 63, and Cothren, 35, face fines of over $1 million each and potential prison sentences up to 20 years or more. Smith, 59, is set to be sentenced in October.

Casada was reelected in 2020 but has since announced he will not seek reelection again. 

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