NewsNewsChannel 5 InvestigatesCapitol Hill

Actions

Casada aide may be forced to repay state for no-show days

DA says no one has complained about Lotfi's deal
Posted: 5:53 PM, May 29, 2019
Updated: 2019-06-01 04:17:39Z
Michael Lotfi with bullhorn.jpg

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — A longtime political operative for House Speaker Glen Casada may soon have to write a check to taxpayers - for hours where he got paid but didn't show up for work.

Despite that, Nashville's district attorney general says that, for now, there's nothing for him to investigate.

Michael Lotfi resigned two weeks ago after NewsChannel 5 Investigates first revealed that Casada had given him a lucrative state job -- with no requirement that he work out of the legislature's office, submit a formal time card or even work 40 hours a week.

Lotfi is a 28-year-old political operative who worked behind the scenes last year to help Glen Casada elect Republicans who would, in turn, help him get elected as House Speaker.

After taking office in January, Casada rewarded Lotfi with a state job, paying him nearly $50,000 a year, with no state office, no state phone and, until last month, no state email.

Faced with questions about his arrangement, Lotfi resigned, taking to talk radio three days later to defend himself.

"Unfortunately, there was a situation where Phil Williams had ran a story that set up a narrative but never really provided the opportunity to provide documentation counter to that narrative," Lotfi told WWTN's Brian Wilson.

"So there are records that show 'Hey, I'm not available this day.'"

In fact, the state says Lotfi created that documentation -- time sheets for five months -- and submitted them the same day that he resigned. Those time sheets show days where he now admits he was "not available," but got paid anyway.

Those time sheets are not signed and verified by any supervisor.

RELATED: House Speaker put political operative on state payroll

Among the days Lotfi got paid was a day in February where his girlfriend's Instagram depicts a ski trip to Colorado and a day in March when they were at Lake Tahoe.

Talk radio host Brian Wilson had asked Lotfi, "Did you have to declare a sick day?

"No," the political operative answered.

Vacation day?

"Yeah, vacation day, like 'Hey, I'm not going to be paid this day, like I'm not here available to work for the Speaker' -- exactly, yeah," Lotfi continued.

Now, legislative staff are going back over Lotfi's newly submitted time sheets to look at those days where he himself shows he was "not available" and to calculate how much he owes taxpayers.

The head of legislative administration, Connie Ridley, estimated that -- based on what Lotfi noted when he went back and recreated his time sheets -- he could end up owing taxpayers somewhere around $2,000.

However, in a text exchange Wednesday afternoon, Lotfi blamed the Speaker's Office for failing to keep track of his time, saying "I was certainly under the impression that I had leave time."

"At the end of the day, it was sloppy record keeping on their behalf, and I'm furious over the entire damn situation," he added.

The political operative did have state email for about six weeks.

But when NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked to see that email, we were told it no longer exists.

"Mr. Lotfi’s email account was disabled and deleted the day of his separation which is standard policy for the legislature," Ridley said in an email.

One person not investigating is Nashville DA Glenn Funk.

"So far, we have not received a complaint from anyone regarding that individual," Funk spokesperson Steve Hayslip told NewsChannel 5. "There has to be some sort of corroborating evidence for us to move forward."

It's a very different stance from the situation with former Nashville Mayor Megan Barry.

In that case, Funk himself asked the TBI to open an investigation the day after she admitted an affair with her police bodyguard.

Ironically, the DA himself faced a TBI investigation over similar allegations after NewsChannel 5 Investigates discovered that - in the two months before he took office in 2014 - Funk had a state job created for him -- to help him get state benefits and boost his state pension.

RELATED: Job Created 'As Favor' To Boost DA's Pension

Attorney General: Nashville DA Broke Law, Won't Face Prosecution

In fact, Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery concluded Funk did "virtually no work" for the money.

The DA paid the money back, and the AG decided not to prosecute.

UPDATE: The Speaker's office released the following statement Wednesday night:

“As part of Mr. Lotfi’s employment agreement, he was required to report his hours worked to the Speaker’s office, which is the practice for all House employees. Upon further review, it was determined that legislative administration never received official documentation from Mr. Lotfi, due to an oversight on the part of our office. Mr. Lotfi was proactive in assisting us to correct this issue in a timely and accurate manner. He has fulfilled all of the requirements outlined under the terms of his employment. We appreciate his work during the 2019 legislative session, and we wish him the very best.”

However, during Lotfi's text message exchange with NewsChannel 5 Investigates, he admitted he never submitted any written documentation of the time that he actually worked.

"Typically via phone call I'd inform them if I would or would not be available to come in and they told me they'd make a note of it," Lotfi texted.

In his earlier phone interviews with NewsChannel 5 Investigates, Lotfi admitted that he got paid for being "available" and he was not necessarily required to work 40 hours a week.

View NewsChannel 5's full investigation:

Capitol Hill Controversy