NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Capitol Hill was rocked Tuesday by the arrest of a former House Speaker and his former chief of staff on federal corruption charges.
So how strong is the case against Glen Casada and Cade Cothren?
Veteran Nashville attorney Gary Blackburn, who has prosecuted and defended public corruption cases, says the indictment is as strong as any he's ever seen.
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"I would put it this way, a conviction rate is in the high 90s. This one is in the highest category of conviction rates," Blackburn told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.
"My assessment of this is, if these were my clients, I would tell them to make preparations to go away."
If convicted, Casada and Cothren each face up to 20 years in federal prison.
"I have always believe that every case has a weakness, you just have to find it," Blackburn continued. "I haven't seen all the discovery that will be produced to defense counsel.
"From a legal standpoint, there are few weaknesses in this case."
Casada's attorney, Ed Yarbrough, declined to comment, while Cothren's attorney, Cynthia Sherwood, would only say that her client "looks forward to being vindicated."
Blackburn suggested that, to begin with, you look at how their arrests played out right before the public's eyes.
There wasn't the courtesy of being allowed to quietly surrender to federal authorities. Instead, the two men were arrested at their homes, placed into handcuffs and leg chains and hauled before a federal judge.
All of that, the Nashville attorney said, would have been an intentional decision by prosecutors.
"That would suggest either some disagreement with the defense attorney or that they want to make a point."
We asked, "Trying to get their attention?"
"That's right," he agreed, "and to discourage similar conduct by making a big show of the arrest."
Blackburn said that much of the case appears to be built upon evidence recovered during raids of legislative offices, along with raids of the defendants' homes, including messages recovered from their iPhones.
"The strength of this case is that it's all on paper. You have admissions made through emails and text messages. You have the bank accounts, so you have that paper trail."
The indictment alleges that after Casada's downfall as House Speaker in 2019, Cothren set up a company called Phoenix Solutions to do political mailings.
It was incorporated in New Mexico under the fictitious name of "Matthew Phoenix."
Casada, who remained in the legislature, and then Rep. Robin Smith agreed to steer state business to the company in exchange for bribes and kickbacks.
As NewsChannel 5 Investigates previously revealed, they then supplied the state with a tax form allegedly signed by Matthew Phoenix.
According to the indictment, Cothren texted Casada: "Just remember you have zero connection to it and don't even know that much other than they've done work for you and are very good."
"I like the message!" Casada replied.
The group also wanted to get the mailing business of the House Republican Caucus, but the caucus had a rule against paying its own people.
Casada: "Since the caucus won't spend money on members' companies, and we want no one knowing [you're] Phoenix, how do we get around that to doing [caucus] mail?"
Cothren: "No one needs to know whose company it is."
Casada: "I just hope they don't ask the representatives from Phoenix to come and make his case to do caucus mail."
Cothren: "They live in New Mexico. Will have to get on the phone for it, and I could disguise my voice if I [have] to."
"The phrase 'scheme or artifice to defraud springs into life when you read those words," Blackburn said.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "It's pretty clear?"
"It's pretty clear, yes."
On top of that, Smith has already pleaded guilty and would be expected to testify against her former colleagues.
Blackburn said Casada and Cothren could help themselves if they have evidence of public corruption involving other state officials and could be persuaded to flip.
This may explain why the feds made such a dramatic move in arresting them to get their attention.
View NewsChannel 5's previous investigation: