Sen. Katrina Robinson hugs a supporter in April during legislative session. (Photo: John Partipilo)
The trial of state Sen. Katrina Robinson resumes on Friday in Memphis, after opening with jury selection on Monday. Robinson faces charges of embezzlement and wire fraud stemming from an FBI investigation opened in 2016.
Robinson is defending herself against allegations that she improperly used funds awarded by the federal government to The Healthcare Institute, a for-profit business she founded and owned that provides post-secondary education for careers in nursing.
In 2016, THI received a grant from the US Department of Health and Human Services for $2.2 million to be paid out over four years to support training programs in geriatric nursing. The FBI opened an investigation after an anonymous tip in 2016 and tracked Robinson’s spending over the next three years. The criminal complaint, filed with the court in July 2020, focuses on the commingling of grant funds with Robinson’s personal expenditures.
U.S. district attorneys initially filed 48 charges, 24 each for embezzlement and wire fraud. Charges were reduced to 17 in Jan. 2021 when Robinson’s attorneys argued many were redundant. Laterin January, federal attorneys introduced new fraud and money laundering charges focused on a $14,470 tuition payment. If convicted, Robinson could face up to 20 years in federal prison.
Robinson’s lawyers maintain she did not steal funds and that the prosecution is attempting to put the senator in federal prison for bookkeeping errors. A Black senator representing a majority-Black district, Robinson has said she believes the charges to be racially motivated, an example of the State defaming a Black lawmaker and criminalizing common business practices that wouldn’t otherwise invite such scrutiny.
US district attorneys are attempting to lay out a pattern of behavior in which Robinson converted federal grant money into personal compensation. Much of the case will hinge on the prosecution’s ability to argue what is or isn’t considered personal compensation for the proprietor of a business that receives federal grant money.
On Sept. 3, a judge denied the US district attorneys’ request to move the trial location and exclude Shelby County residents from serving on the jury. Since the trial began, the court has conducted jury selection and heard opening statements. On Wednesday, the court first heard testimony related to Robinson’s spending.
The court was not in session Thursday to allow observation of Yom Kippur, a Jewish high holiday, and will pick up Friday at 9am at the federal courthouse in Memphis. Presiding is the Honorable Sheryl H. Lipman of the Western District of Tennessee.
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