“In Tennessee, we will not tolerate public corruption, state defrauding or bribery at any level,” Sexton said. campaign finance rules and new ethical laws for elected officials and staff.
“Today is a good day for the people of Tennessee because we have not condoned this criminal activity.”
In early March, federal prosecutors charged Smith with wire fraud, which led to a quick dismissal and a plea deal. Multiple lawmakers, including Sexton, were subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury on March 28.
Prosecutors alleged that Casada, Cothren and Smith were working to set up a shady firm known as Phoenix Solutions, and disguised its operator when Cothren manipulated legal payments into bribes for Smith and Casada.
In November 2019, Cothren allegedly texted Casada with a link to the company’s new website, according to text messages obtained by prosecutors.
“But remember, you don’t have any connection with them and don’t even know that much, other than that they’ve done work for you and are very good,” Cothren texted, according to court documents.
“I like the post,” Casada responded.
Initially established to provide services to lawmakers facing primary challenges, Phoenix Solutions later expanded to act as a supplier to the General Assembly’s mailing service program. The company benefited from taxpayers’ money through the program, which gives lawmakers annual allowances for mailing campaigns.
Prosecutors allege this amounted to theft of programs that received federal funds.
Smith marketed the company to her state house colleagues, lied about her connection to the company and told colleagues a false backstory about Matthew Phoenix, according to court documents.
Cothren later signed IRS forms as Matthew Phoenix so that Phoenix Solutions would be approved as a qualified supplier to the state, prosecutors allege.
All three conspired to hide Cothren’s involvement with the company, prosecutors say, because Cothren understood that the company would not be approved as a seller under his name after he resigned from the General Assembly staff under a cloud of scandals.
The federal indictment released Tuesday reveals communications between Casada and Cothren about strategy, earnings and communications with Smith, who acted as the company front person with General Assembly staff.
“I think this is off to a good start, I’m satisfied!” Casada texted Cothren in December 2019, according to court documents.
Cothren reportedly agreed, but said, “we just need to make sure no one knows I’m involved.”
Meanwhile, the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance also investigated Casada and Cothren for their connections to the Faith Family Freedom Fund PAC.
The PAC treasurer testified in January that she opened the PAC to Cothren, who was her boyfriend at the time, but said she was not involved in the operations.
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More:Election Registry Refers Casada, Cothren Inquiry To Williamson County Prosecutors
An unnamed friend of Cothren’s was also involved with Phoenix Solutions, according to Smith’s indictment documents. Individual 3, dubbed Cothren’s girlfriend, pretended to be a fictional Phoenix employee and made up an email exchanged with Cothren.
Casada’s Rise and Fall in Republican Politics
Casada’s political career began in 1994 with the Williamson County Commission. He would serve on the committee until he was elected Franklin’s state representative in a special election in 2001.
He won the Williamson seat and vowed to fight the state income tax, a highly contentious issue at the time.
While in the House, Casada worked his way up through party leadership. In 2004, he was elected to the Republican whip. He was then elected chairman of the caucus in 2007, a position he would hold until 2010 and from 2013 to 2016.
Casada then sued Rep. Beth Harwell ran for speaker in 2011, but lost. He was elected as the party’s majority leader in 2017.
When Harwell chose to become governor in 2018, the door opened again for Casada to become a speaker in 2019.
During his time as a speaker, Casada’s most notable achievement was pushing Governor Bill Lee’s school voucher plan.
More:GOP chairman regrets voting on voucher law, says program won’t be implemented in 2020
The bill was only passed after Casada struck a deal with a member of the House to remove his county from the law. The move broke a deadlock that would have seen the bill fail.
More:After 3 months of scandal, Glen Casada is no longer speaker of the Tennessee House
Casada claimed the accolade as Tennessee’s shortest-serving speaker ever when he resigned in August 2019 in another scandal involving Cothren.
After announcing that he would be leaving the Assembly at the end of 2022, Casada launched a failed bid for Williamson County Clerk, losing the Republican primary by a wide margin.
This is a story in development.
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