Former Tennessee Speaker Casada arrested in corruption probe

Kimberlee Kruesi
Associated Press

Nashville, Tenn. — Tennessee's disgraced former House Speaker Glen Casada and his top aide were arrested Tuesday on federal charges including bribery, kickbacks and conspiracy to commit money laundering with federal funds.

Their indictments come months after Republican Rep. Robin Smith abruptly resigned when faced with federal wire fraud charges involving Casada. While Casada was not directly named at that point, her March indictment kicked off speculation that more charges would come from the corruption investigation.

FBI agents arrested Casada and his former Chief of Staff Cade Cothren at their homes Tuesday morning. If convicted, they each face up to 20 years in prison.

Rep. Glen Casada, R-Franklin, top center, is sworn in with other members on the first day of the legislative session Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn.

The 20-count charging document alleges Casada and Cothren exploited their positions of power by working with another unnamed lawmaker to funnel money to themselves using a political consulting firm — known as Phoenix Solutions, LLC — that concealed their involvement.

“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,” a Justice Department news release said.

Casada resigned from the top leadership pos t in 2019 after revelations that he and Cothren had exchanged sexually explicit text messages about women years earlier. In January 2021, FBI agents searched the homes and offices of several state lawmakers, including those of Casada and Smith, and the home of Cothren.

The charging documents revealed Tuesday say Cothren launched Phoenix Solutions with Smith’s and Casada’s “knowledge and support” to offer mail and consulting services to lawmakers. All three claimed the firm was run by a “Matthew Phoenix” when in fact it was a made-up alias for Cothren, and Casada knew the name was fictitious, the documents allege.

The documents allege Smith emailed Cothren at one point saying he “may have to assume the role of Matthew again.” He replied saying, “Matthew, reporting for duty!” and included a GIF of “a salute from Harrison Ford’s character Han Solo in the movie Star Wars,” officials said.

Federal investigators said a separate text exchange showed Casada texted Cothren in late 2019 saying “I think this is starting off well I’m pleased!” Cothren later cautioned that “we just have to make sure no one knows it’s me involved,” they said.

When Casada raised concerns about lawmakers wanting “representatives from Phoenix” to make an in-person presentation, Cothren responded that they would remind lawmakers “they live in New Mexico. Will have to get on the phone for it and I could disguise my voice if I has (sic) to.”

Phoenix Solutions received roughly $52,000 from the state in payments associated with the mailer program, according to the charging documents.