KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — East Tennessee Republican lawmaker Robin Smith abruptly resigned Monday amid a federal investigation into her participation in a kickback scheme that involved former House Speaker Glen Casada and his former chief of staff, federal records show.
She's been charged in federal court in Nashville with a single count of honest services wire fraud.
"The purpose of this letter is to advise that I am resigning from House District 26 effective immediately," Smith's letter to House Speak Cameron Sexton states.
"I want you to know that serving the great people of this district, and indeed, all of Tennessee, has truly been an honor. I have resigned with the deepest of humility and out of respect for the role of public service."
Smith is a former state GOP chair.
The charge against Smith, 58, comes in the form of an information. An information is a charge agreed to by a defendant in lieu of a federal grand jury review.
According to the records, Smith knew that Casada's former chief of staff had started a consulting firm called Phoenix Solutions and secured state legislative business but hid that association because he assumed that "Phoenix Solutions would not be approved by the Tennessee House Speaker's Office, acting on behalf of the state, or hired as a vendor by individual members if (the former chief of staff's) involvement was disclosed."
In early 2021, FBI agents raided numerous offices as part of an investigation that included Casada and Smith.
The information records don't identify Casada or Cade Cothren explicitly.
Instead, they refer to Smith working with a Tennessee House member who was elected in 2003 and resigned as House speaker in August 2019 "after a scandal became public."
That's when Casada stepped down as House speaker, although he remained a House member. He's already announced he isn't seeking reelection this year to keep his Williamson County seat.
The information documents also refer to Casada's "former chief of staff", who abruptly resigned in May 2019 amid press reports that he had "committed inappropriate and illegal conduct."
Cothren quit as Casada's chief of staff in May 2019. He's alleged to have started Phoenix Solutions within months of leaving Casada's office.
The information charge unveiled Monday states that Smith helped the former chief of staff -- Cothren -- get his business going and vouched for it. She and Casada in turn got payments from Phoenix Solutions, records state.
Phoenix Solutions LLC was created to offer mail and consulting services for lawmakers facing primary challenges, "and was later expanded to offer constituent mail services to members of the Tennessee General Assembly."
According to the charge, Cothren, Casada and Smith engaged in profit-sharing. Smith got various payments totaling thousands of dollars for her assistance.
In September 2020, she endorsed and deposited a check for $12,003 from Phoenix Solutions into the bank account of her own consulting firm.
In December 2020, she endorsed and deposited a check for $12,116.96 from Phoenix Solutions to her consulting firm.
According to the federal charges, Smith and the others "devised and intended to devise a scheme and artifice to defraud and deprive the citizens of the Middle District of Tennessee and the government of Tennessee of their right to the honest services of a public official, namely the honest services of Smith and (Casada), members of the Tennessee House of Representatives through kickbacks."
Phoenix Solutions was purportedly run by a man named Matthew Phoenix. But the name Matthew Phoenix was fictitious, records states.