Report: House Speaker, lawmakers get federal subpoenas in corruption probe

By: - March 22, 2022 9:28 pm
Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton backed addition of Centene Corp. to TennCare through a no-bid contract. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton backed addition of Centene Corp. to TennCare through a no-bid contract. (Photo: John Partipilo)

A federal grand jury has subpoenaed House Speaker Cameron Sexton and possibly several other lawmakers in an investigation of corruption in the Legislature, NewsChannel5 reported Tuesday.

According to the report, 10 to 12 legislators also are believed to have been subpoenaed Tuesday as federal agents probe the activity of shadowy campaign vendors in connection with the 2020 election.

In a statement to NewsChannel5, Sexton said, “It is not unexpected that I and other members would be called to appear before a grand jury to provide factual statements as part of this ongoing investigation.”

Sexton has said he has been cooperating with federal agents since he won election to the Speaker’s post in the fall of 2019 following the resignation of Rep. Glen Casada amid a sexist and racist texting scandal and complaints about his management style.

The subpoena of Sexton comes on the heels of the resignation of Rep. Robin Smith when she pleaded guilty to a wire fraud charge two weeks ago. 

Smith and Casada, who was identified in federal documents as a former House Speaker from January 2019 to August 2019, used their positions in the Legislature to persuade House Republicans to do business with a new campaign vendor called Phoenix Solutions, according to federal documents. As part of her guilty plea, Smith is cooperating with federal agents. 

Smith, Casada and first-term Republican Rep. Todd Warner were targets in a January 2021 raid by FBI agents.

Rep. Todd Warner, R-Chapel Hill, is also a subject of an FBI probe. (Photo: John Partipilo)
Rep. Todd Warner, R-Chapel Hill, is also a subject of an FBI probe. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Smith’s guilty plea identifies the operator of the business as the former House Speaker’s ex-chief of staff, Cade Cothren, who resigned amid scandal. Cothren gave Smith and Casada kickbacks for more than $200,000 worth of business steered to him, according to the federal documents.

The House Republican Caucus spent tens of thousands of dollars with a man named Matthew Phoenix, believed to be Cothren, yet nobody within the caucus had a face-to-face meeting with the owner of Phoenix Solutions.

NewsChannel5 reported the lawmakers subpoenaed are believed to have dealt with Smith or Casada in doing business with Phoenix Solutions. Several lawmakers used the new vendor for campaign work and to handle their taxpayer-funded mailers.

Phoenix Solutions used the same mode of operation as two other new entities in the 2020 election, Alabama-based Dixieland Strategies and the Faith Family Freedom Fund, as well as the same Hamilton County postal code, 383.

A former girlfriend of Cothren’s testified he persuaded her to organize the Faith Family Freedom Fund political action committee so he could run it. A North Carolina restaurant owner, who has not been found, donated the money that was used to attack former Republican Rep. Rick Tillis of Lewisburg in his race against Warner of Chapel Hill.

Warner defeated Tillis in the race, and a Tillis campaign worker filed a complaint that the Faith Family Freedom Fund PAC illegally coordinated with the Warner campaign.

The Tennessee Registry of Election Finance has turned that matter over to the Williamson County District Attorney’s Office and asked the Attorney General’s Office to bring in Cothren to testify. He refused to testify after being subpoenaed by the Registry board, invoking his Fifth Amendment right to avoid incriminating himself.


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Sam Stockard
Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard is a veteran Tennessee reporter and editor, having written for the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, where he served as lead editor when the paper won an award for being the state's best Sunday newspaper two years in a row. He has led the Capitol Hill bureau for The Daily Memphian. His awards include Best Single Editorial from the Tennessee Press Association.