Casada paid for possible test run on New Mexico company
Rep. Glen Casada, R-Franklin, looks pensive at his desk in the Tennessee House of Representatives in Jan. 2021. (Photo: John Partipilo)
Former House Speaker Glen Casada payed thousands of dollars to a New Mexico-based company that could have been a test run for the illicit campaign vendor identified in a federal charge against resigned Rep. Robin Smith.
Casada has denied any connection with Phoenix Solutions, the company at the center of a wire fraud charge against Smith.
Yet Casada spent $3,500 from his political action committee in September 2018 on the Cattleya Group, LLC, a company set up at 530-B Harkle Road, Suite 100, Santa Fe, New Mexico, according to records from the New Mexico Secretary of State and an audit of Casada’s PAC spending.
It is the same address used in 2019 for creation of Phoenix Solutions, which, according to federal prosecutors, was used by Smith, Casada and his former chief of staff, Cade Cothren, to conceal their participation in a campaign vendor that made more than $200,000 on the House Republican Caucus and Republican candidates, including their taxpayer-funded mailers.
In Smith’s charging document, Casada is identified as a former House speaker who served for about seven months in the role and Cothren as his chief of staff. Federal prosecutors say Casada and Smith concealed their role and that of Cothren in Phoenix Solutions and took “kickbacks” for pressuring lawmakers and House leadership to use the company for campaign work as Cothren ran it. The charging document contends they had to cover up their involvement or lawmakers wouldn’t have used the company.
Smith was arraigned Monday in federal court in Nashville and is set to have a plea hearing Tuesday. As part of her conditions, she is restricted to travel in Middle and East Tennessee and North Georgia and is prohibited from carrying a gun.
On Monday, she waived her right to prosecution by a grand jury indictment and consented to prosecution by information agreed to with federal prosecutors.
The Cattleya Group expense is not detailed in the charging document, but it is one of hundreds Casada made in 2018, according to an audit by the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance. The Registry ultimately levied a $10,000 civil penalty against Casada for some $98,000 in undocumented expenses, including two for Cattleya Group in the fourth quarter of 2018.
In the charging document against Smith, Cothren told the now-former Republican representative from Hixson he set up Phoenix Solutions in New Mexico because the state allowed companies to form anonymously there.
The companies’ mailing addresses are different, though, with 30 N. Gould Suite R, Sheridan, Wyoming, used for Cattleya and 522 W. Riverside Ave., Suite N, Spokane, Washington, used for Phoenix Solutions, records show. In addition, Phoenix Solutions’ organizer used the name Morgan Noble, while Cattleya Group used the name Registered Agents Inc.
According to a report from the Sheridan Press, the address of 30 N. Gould St. and Registered Agents is the subject of numerous consumer complaints with 21 registered agents claiming to have offices there.
Smith was an ally of Casada in 2018 as he won the speakership after working heavily on candidate campaigns.
Phoenix Solutions netted $158,165 from campaign accounts and $51,947 from state-funded mailer programs, which provide lawmakers with $3,000 each for mailing, the filing says. Casada and Smith both earned at least $4,143, according to the filing.
The House Republican Caucus paid $48,000 to Phoenix Solutions for mailers through the Tennessee Republican Party.
FBI agents converged on the Cordell Hull Building Jan. 8, 2021 and searched the offices of Smith, Casada and state Rep. Todd Warner, in addition to going through their homes. They also raided the home of Cothren.
Smith avoided questions last year about Phoenix Solutions, a New Mexico-based company that used the same Chattanooga postal code, 383, for election material for Warner and a political action committee called Faith Family Freedom Fund to make attack ads against now-former Rep. Rick Tillis, who was critical of Casada and Cothren.
The filing against Smith, though, says Cothren formed Phoenix Solutions in November 2019 with Smith’s and Casada’s knowledge and support “for the purpose of offering mail and consulting services for legislative members facing primary challengers and was later expanded to offer constituent mail services to members of the Tennessee General Assembly.”
Casada and Smith told legislators the company was run by “Matthew Phoenix” and claimed he was “an experienced political consultant who had worked for” a real consulting firm in Washington, D.C. Smith and Casada knew Matthew Phoenix “was a fictitious person” and was really Cothren, the filing says.
Tillis’ campaign manager filed a complaint earlier with the Registry Election Finance, claiming illegal coordination between the Faith Family Freedom Fund and Warner campaign.
Casada last week denied any connection to the Faith Family Freedom Fund after an ex-girlfriend of Cothren told the Registry of Election Finance she formed the PAC at Cothren’s request so he could run it, allowing him to conduct business without attracting negative attention following a scandal in the Casada administration.
In June 2020, Cothren and a girlfriend, who used the name “Candice,” started an email exchange to make it look as if they were Phoenix Solutions employees and needed to be paid, according to the filing.
Smith repeated false statements about the company and a move by Phoenix to New Mexico in an effort to be paid. She also falsely claimed she didn’t make any money from Phoenix Solutions, the filing says.
FBI agents have been investigating Casada since spring 2019 when he held the vote board open for nearly 45 minutes to break a tie on the governor’s education savings account bill. The measure passed after Rep. Jason Zachary, R-Knoxville, agreed to change his vote on the assurance Knox County Schools would be removed as a voucher district.
Casada is believed to have offered Democratic Rep. John Mark Windle a promotion from colonel to general in the National Guard, in exchange for his vote. Casada has denied it.
He also denied any participation in the Faith Family Freedom Fund last week before the Registry of Election Finance. Casada is leaving the Legislature this year and seeking the County Court Clerk’s post in Williamson County.
(Anita Wadhwani contributed to this story.)
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