NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Republican Speaker of the Tennessee House Cameron Sexton isn’t saying much in response to questions regarding the guilty plea for wire fraud from former GOP Representative, Robin Smith, who resigned this week.
According to charging documents, Smith was a part of a kickback scheme profiting off a fake company to put public dollars into her pocket.
The former Chattanooga representative is scheduled to be sentenced on federal fraud charges later this year in connection with that kickback scheme which names former Republican House Speaker Glen Casada and a top aide during his time in power.
“When a legislator acts in the interest of themselves over the interest of the state — they should get caught and this proves that the current laws have worked and people been caught,” said Rep. Jeremy Faison, the House Republican caucus chair.
Smith could face up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 dollars, but a cooperation agreement could reduce those sentencing factors and allow her to assist in the FBI’s investigation.
It’s possible Casada could face federal charges in the near future, but at this time Speaker Sexton is not calling for his resignation.
“He has due process until you’re charged, until the investigation’s done, there’s been nothing levied against him except allegations so we just simply have to wait for the investigation to continue and see how it works out,” Sexton said.
However, Smith’s charging documents reference Casada and his former top aide Cade Cothren into the web of a made-up company and fictitious man known as “Matthew Phoenix.” Prosecutors allege they funneled money into their pockets from legislative mailer funds.
Democrats call the scheme a black eye on the legislature.
“I think the most concerning thing about this is that it did involve leadership, right, like it shouldn’t be the way that you find success in the General Assembly,” said Sen. Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville).
While Speaker Sexton isn’t going into details due to the ongoing investigation, in which his office is cooperating, some in his caucus are angry to learn that ‘Phoenix Solutions’ was a red herring for corruption in the House Republican Caucus.
“It makes me livid that we were lied to, we were taking in and that we paid a company that we thought was legitimate, that we require W-9’s for and everything else and we are boldface lied to on how that company, even the fact that they existed, was made up apparently from what we’ve seen in this plea and yeah it makes me pretty mad,” said Rep. William Lamberth, the House GOP floor leader.
The Speaker also announced two staffers who were placed on paid administrative leave as the federal probe intensified will no longer be on paid leave and will no longer work at the Capitol.