Smith pleads guilty to wire fraud connected to shadowy campaign vendor
Rep. Robin Smith, R-Hixson, talks to reporters at opening day of the 112th General Assembly. (Photo: John Partipilo)
A day after resigning her House seat, Robin Smith pleaded guilty Tuesday to honest services wire fraud in connection with an illicit campaign vendor set up with knowledge of a former House speaker and run by his ex-chief of staff.
Smith, a Hixson Republican and former chairman of the state party, entered the plea before U.S. District Court Judge Eli Richardson after being charged with taking kickbacks from Phoenix Solutions. Richardson accepted the plea and set a sentencing hearing for Oct. 17.
Smith will remain free on bond conditions until the hearing.
Richardson explained during the plea hearing she could be sentenced to a maximum of 20 years in prison and maximum fine of $250,000. Whether she will serve prison time is unclear, but she is likely to have to make restitution for any payments she received and be required to forfeit any of the ill-made gains.
According to the criminal filing by federal prosecutors, Cade Cothren, who worked for Rep. Glen Casada before and after his short stint as House speaker in 2019, set up the phony vendor called Phoenix Solutions in New Mexico because the state allows anonymous filings.
The charging document against Smith says Casada and Smith pressured the House Republican Caucus and lawmakers to do business with Phoenix Solutions, including work on taxpayer-funded mailers. In return, Cothren gave them kickbacks, according to the filing.
Phoenix Solutions made more than $200,000, and according to the charging document, Smith and Casada received about $4,100.
Smith would not say afterward whether she would testify against Casada.
She made this statement though Chattanooga-based Waterhouse Public Relations: “Once the Department of Justice informed me of the nature of my actions, I took full responsibility for my actions, culminating in my guilty plea.
“There are no excuses. I intend to cooperate fully as a witness with the federal government and do whatever I can to assist the government in this regard.”
Smith said she resigned from her Hamilton County House seat “out of respect for the honor of Tennesseans,” her commitment to public service and her Christian faith.
“Rather than continuing to serve in the General Assembly, I intend to remain active in my community and my church. While this has been a difficult time in my life, I remain convinced that something positive will come out of it.”
Smith declined to comment further.
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