'Bribery and kickback conspiracy:' Rep. Glen Casada, former chief of staff indicted on federal fraud charges

Posted at 8:05 AM, Aug 23, 2022
and last updated 2023-06-30 17:39:06-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Former Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada and his former chief of staff Cade Cothren have been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges including conspiracy to commit bribery and accept kickbacks.

Casada still serves in the state legislature, representing Williamson County's House District 63 and will retire at the end of his term.

The lawmaker and his former aide were arrested on Tuesday morning and appeared before a federal magistrate hours later. They were led into the court in handcuffs and leg chains before pleading not guilty to all charges in the 20-count indictment. They were released from custody on Tuesday afternoon.

Casada leaving court

Cynthia Sherwood, attorney for Cothren, said her client plans on "strongly defending" the charges against him.

Cynthia Sherwood, attorney for Cothren, speaks outside courthouse

Cothren told NewsChannel 5 Investigates' Phil Williams that "the truth will come out."

According to the indictment, beginning in October 2019, Casada, Cothren, as well as another conspirator 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."

This reportedly began after Cothren's resignation and after Casada stepped down as the Tennessee Speaker of the House.

That additional conspirator is also a member of the Tennessee House of Representatives. The indictment refers to the lawmaker as "Individual 4," who represented District 26, which is part of Hamilton County. Robin Smith, who represented that district during that time, pleaded guilty to one count of honest services wire fraud in March. She has since resigned from the Tennessee General Assembly.

Read more: Timeline of events leading up to Rep. Glen Casada's arrest

FBI agents raided the homes and offices of Casada, Cothern and Smith in January 2021.

The three also allegedly sought to obtain state funds for Phoenix Solutions, Casada’s political consulting business and a political consulting business that was owned by the other conspirator.

The indictment continues, stating that Casada and the additional conspirator told members of the Tennessee General Assembly that Phoenix Solutions was run by a person named "Matthew Phoenix," when it was allegedly run by Cothren and Phoenix was a fictitious person.

Court documents detail text messages exchanged between Rep. Casada, Cothren and "Individual 4." Text messages include Casada telling Cothren, "I think this is starting off well I'm pleased!" and Cothren cautioning Casada to "make sure no one knows it's [him] involved."

The following timeline details the group's exchanges from 2019 to the end of 2020.

The three individuals reportedly concealed their involvement by submitting fake invoices to the state for the purpose of funneling money from the state to Phoenix Solutions through the companies' bank accounts.

More than $50,000 was allegedly received from the state in 2020 for these companies.

Read the full indictment here.

Casada and Cothren are charged with the following offenses:

  • Conspiracy
  • Theft concerning programs receiving federal funds
  • Two counts of bribery and kickbacks concerning programs receiving federal funds
  • Six counts of honest services wire fraud
  • Use of a fictitious name to carry out a fraud
  • Money laundering conspiracy
  • Eight counts of money laundering

If convicted, they face up to 20 years in prison. Additionally, the indictment contains a forfeiture allegation, meaning the government is seeking to recover all the proceeds of the alleged crimes.

View NewsChannel 5's previous investigation:

Capitol Hill Controversy