After being charged with wire fraud in federal court in Nashville, Tennessee, on Friday, Republican state Rep. Robin Smith has resigned from her House seat. In a letter to House Speaker Cameron Sexton, Smith said that she is “resigning from House 26 effective immediately.” Smith had held the 26th District House seat in Hamilton County since 2018. According to the Nashville Tennessean, Smith faces one count of honest services wire fraud.
According to NBC News affiliate WSMV, Smith and other Republican House members had their offices searched by federal agents last year. Court documents say that Smith helped others, including two unnamed individuals who are suspected to be former Speaker of the House Glen Casada and his former Chief of Staff Cade Cothren, as they “devised and intended to devise a scheme and artifice 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."
This means Smith got kickbacks consisting of taxpayer dollars paid to a company that offered mail and consulting services to legislators' campaigns. Court documents indicate the kickbacks were given in exchange for both Smith and Casada to use their positions 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 Phoenix Solutions."
While not directly identified in the court documents, Casada has been linked to the unnamed “Individual 1.” Documents described this individual as a member of the Tennessee House who was first elected in 2003 and served as speaker of the Tennessee House from around January 2019 until around August 2019, when they resigned as speaker after a scandal became public. The unnamed “Individual 2” was described as a businessman and former chief of staff to Individual 1 when he was Tennessee House speaker.
Cothren allegedly set up Phoenix Solutions, LLC, with Smith and Casada’s knowledge for the purpose of offering mail and consulting services for legislative members facing primary challengers. Court documents indicate the company later expanded to offer constituent mail services to members of the Tennessee General Assembly. According to the federal charges, Casada and Smith concealed Cothren’s involvement in the company from the state and legislators. Instead, they told legislators and the Speaker's Office that a fake person named "Matthew Phoenix" ran the business.
Prosecutors allege Smith told multiple Republican lawmakers in 2020 that “Matthew Phoenix and his associate, Candice, got tired of living in the Washington, D.C. area and decided to move back home to New Mexico, where Phoenix started Phoenix Solutions.”
According to the court documents, this was done “due to the expectation that Phoenix Solutions would not be approved by the Tennessee House Speaker’s Office.” Federal documents say Smith and Casada each received at least $4,100 in profits.
The charge comes 14 months after FBI agents descended on House offices and legislators' homes, including Smith's, in a federal probe, the Tennessean reported.
In a statement Monday, Sexton confirmed Smith’s resignation.
"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," Sexton said.
"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.”
According to documents filed on Monday, Smith has reached a plea agreement to resolve the charges, and she is ready to change her plea. If convicted, Smith could face up to 20 years in prison.
As of this report, Casada and Cothren do not currently face federal charges in the wire fraud investigation.