Former Tennessee House Speaker, aide indicted on bribery, kickback charges

By: - August 24, 2022 12:10 am
Three men exiting a building. Man in center is former Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada.

Former Tennessee Speaker of the House Glen Casada, center, leaves the Fred D. Thompson U.S. Courthouse in Nashville after being arraigned on 20 counts of conspiracy. Casada is flanked by attorneys Ed Yarbrough, left, and Jonathan Farmer. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Former Tennessee House Speaker Rep. Glen Casada and his chief of staff were arrested at their homes by FBI agents Tuesday morning after a federal grand jury on Monday issued an indictment on 20-counts involving bribery, theft from programs receiving federal funds, kickbacks, conspiracy to commit money laundering and other charges, according to a news release from the US Department of Justice.

If convicted, each faces up to 20 years in prison.

Hours after their arrests, the pair appeared in a downtown federal courthouse in handcuffs. A deputy removed them. In the 30 minute hearing that followed, both men – represented by separate attorneys — pleaded not guilty to all charges against them.

“That is correct, your honor,” said Casada, after attorney Jonathan Farmer said his client was “not guilty on all counts.”

“Yes, your honor,” Cothren said after his attorney Cynthia Sherwood said “not guilty” in response to Magistrate Alistair Newman’s questions. Both men were released after agreeing to standard conditions that included not speaking with witnesses or victims and restrictions on travel.

The court appearance represented an extraordinary reversal of fortune for Casada, a Republican who rose to become one of the most powerful men in Tennessee politics.  Elected to the Tennessee House in 2001 representing Williamson County, he ascended to the Speaker of the House position in 2019. But he served just 6 months, a tenure cut short by a no-confidence vote after racist and sexist texts emerged from his then former chief of staff, Cade Cothren — who is now Casada’s codefendant.

Casada remains a state representative. It is unknown whether he will continue to hold his seat after the indictments.

The charges stem from a scheme to steer lawmakers into doing business with Phoenix Solutions, a consulting business Casada — then serving as the powerful Speaker of the Tennessee House — profited from and Cothren secretly operated.  They told lawmakers the firm was run by an experienced political consultant named “Matthew Phoenix,” who does not exist.

Lawmakers’ constituent mailing are paid from state funds that allocate $3,000 annually for each member.

The 28-page indictment contained text message transcripts between Casada and Cothren:

“I think this is starting off well I’m pleased,” a text from Casada to Cothren in December 2019 said.  The text was sent about a month after Cothren set Phoenix Solutions.

Cothren agreed, but followed up with a text that said “we just have to make sure no one knows it’s me involved.”

Cade Cothren, former chief of staff to ex-House Speaker Glen Casada, leaving the federal courthouse in Nashville following his arraignment on conspiracy charges. (John Partipilo)

Later, Casada texted “we can discuss on the 30th but since the caucus has won’t [sic] spend money on member companies and we want no one knowing your [sic] Phoenix how do we get around that to doing [caucus] mail[?]”

“No one needs to know whose company it is,” Cothren responded.

Former Rep. Robin Smith, a Hixson Republican and former chair of the state party, pled guilty in March in connection to the scheme — on the day after she resigned from office. Her plea was tied to a cooperation agreement.

“I intend to cooperate fully as a witness with the federal government and do whatever I can to assist the government in this regard,” she said at the time.

Cothren resigned in 2019 after allegations of inappropriate behavior — including that he sent sexually explicit and racist text messages and used cocaine inside legislative offices — emerged.

Phoenix Solutions submitted invoices directly to the state of Tennessee for approximately $51,000 in 2020, part of a total of about $158,000 in revenue for the company that year as the company “took on more varied projects, but continued to receive payments from the State-funded Mailer Program and campaign accounts of members of the General Assembly,” according to the indictment.

Casada Indictment by Anita Wadhwani on Scribd

This article first appeared in the Tennessee Lookout. Like the Arkansas Advocate, the Lookout is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Tennessee Lookout maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Holly McCall for questions: [email protected]. Follow Tennessee Lookout on Facebook and Twitter.

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Anita Wadhwani
Anita Wadhwani

Anita Wadhwani is a senior reporter for the Tennessee Lookout. The Tennessee AP Broadcasters and Media (TAPME) named her Journalist of the Year in 2019 as well as giving her the Malcolm Law Award for Investigative Journalism. Wadhwani is formerly an investigative reporter with The Tennessean who focused on the impact of public policies on the people and places across Tennessee. She is a graduate of Columbia University in New York and the University of California at Berkeley School of Journalism. Wadhwani lives in Nashville with her partner and two children.