NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Former Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada and his former Chief of Staff Cade Cothren were taken into custody Tuesday morning after both were indicted by a Federal grand jury for their alleged involvement in a bribery and kickback conspiracy.
Casada, 63, and Cothren, 35, were arrested at their homes by Federal Bureau of Investigation agents and made an initial appearance before a U.S. Magistrate judge. Both Casada and Cothren pleaded not guilty to all charges. They have been granted release until trial.
Casada was granted permission to take a 4-day vacation in Florida this weekend and Cothren will be allowed to take a 2-week vacation to Florida in October.
Both were charged with conspiracy to commit the following offenses: theft from programs receiving federal funds; bribery and kickbacks concerning programs receiving federal funds; honest services wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
The 20-count indictment also charges Casada and Cothren with using a fictitious name to carry out a fraud, theft concerning programs receiving federal funds, eight counts of money laundering, six counts of honest services wire fraud, and two counts of bribery and kickbacks.
According to the indictment, beginning in and around October 2019, Casada, while representing Tennessee House District 63, Cothren, and another conspirator, also a member of the Tennessee House of Representatives, engaged in a fraudulent scheme to enrich themselves by exploiting Casada and the other conspirator’s official positions as legislators to obtain State approval of Phoenix Solutions as a mailer program vendor to provide constituent mail services to members of the Tennessee General Assembly.
Casada, Cothren, and the other conspirator further sought to obtain State funds for Phoenix Solutions, Casada’s political consulting business, and a political consulting business owned by the other conspirator, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office of Middle Tennessee.
Investigators believe it was further part of the conspiracy for Casada and the other conspirator to enrich themselves by obtaining bribes and kickbacks from Cothren, in exchange for securing the approval of Phoenix Solutions as a mailer program vendor.
The indictment alleges Casada and the other conspirator told members of the Tennessee General Assembly Phoenix Solutions was run by an individual named “Matthew Phoenix,” an experienced political consultant who had previously worked for a Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm.
In fact, Cothren operated Phoenix Solutions, and Casada, Cothren, and the other conspirator knew that “Matthew Phoenix” was a fictitious person and secretly profited from the fraudulent venture, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office of Middle Tennessee.
Casada, Cothren, and the other conspirator reportedly 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. In 2020, these companies and Phoenix solutions received approximately $51,947 from the State in payments associated with the mailer program.
The indictment also contains a forfeiture allegation in which the United States seeks to recover all proceeds of the crimes, including a money judgement representing the value of the proceeds traceable to any offense of conviction.
If convicted, a Federal District Court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
In the 20-count indictment, each charge has a maximum prison sentence and fine, with the severest being 20 years in prison and $500,000 fine for just one count.
House Speaker Cameron Sexton released a statement on the arrests:
“In Tennessee, we will not tolerate public corruption, defrauding our state, or bribery at any level. I commend the Federal Bureau of Investigation for its hard work, diligence, and dedication that resulted in this morning’s arrests.
As I have previously stated on several occasions, shortly after becoming speaker in 2019, I began assisting the federal authorities during and throughout their investigation — including leading up to today’s indictments, and I will continue to do so if a trial is needed.
Together, our legislative body has stood strong over the past two years to take significant actions during this investigation by passing laws to strengthen campaign finance regulations and new ethics laws for elected officials and staff.
Today is a good day for Tennesseans because we did not turn a blind eye on these criminal activities.”Cameron Sexton
House Majority Leader William Lamberth and House Republican Caucus Chairman Jeremy Faison issued a joint statement, which reads:
“The illegal behavior outlined in today’s indictments is extremely serious, and disappointing to our entire caucus. We appreciate Speaker Sexton’s leadership on this situation, as well as the efforts of our House leadership team in bringing these crimes to light. We also stand with federal law enforcement and are grateful for their efforts to hold those responsible for these crimes accountable. Now, we can all move forward and continue focusing on meeting the needs of citizens across Tennessee.”House Majority Leader William Lamberth and House Republican Caucus Chairman Jeremy Faison
Just seven months into 2019, Casada resigned from his role as Speaker amid a scandal in his office. He was hit with allegations including sending racist and sexist text messages to his former Chief of Staff, Cothren. The FBI raided Cadada’s and Cothren’s homes in January 2021.
Federal agents searched the offices and homes of several Republican Tennessee lawmakers in January of 2021, a move that led three legislative staff members to be placed on paid administrative leave.
Cothren allegedly sent racist and sexually explicit text messages between 2014-2016. Cothren admitted to drug use during that time and claimed he was seeking help.
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This is a developing story. WKRN News 2 will continue to update this article as new information becomes available.