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Read Susan Lynn’s public apology to Mae Beavers

As first reported in the print edition of the The Tennessee Journal, the yearslong acrimony between Rep. Susan Lynn and former Sen. Mae Beavers (both R-Mt. Juliet) appears to have reached a conclusion of sorts.

Lynn, who was chair of the powerful House Finance Committee under then-Speaker Glen Casada, is running a public apology in Wilson County newspapers. The move comes after Beavers sued Lynn in 2019 for allegedly spreading rumors about Beavers breaking into her home and trying to have her killed.

When Beavers announced plans to run for Wilson County mayor in 2010, Lynn promptly declared she would run for the vacated Senate seat. But Beavers changed her mind and ran for re-election instead, claiming victory by 6 points. Lynn later won back the House seat she had given up to run for the upper chamber.

Beavers resigned her seat in the Senate to run for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2018. But she dropped out of the contest, endorsing longshot candidate Bill Lee’s status as an outsider who, like Donald Trump on the national level, would “take on the permanent political class in Nashville.” Nearly a year after he took office, Lee named Beavers to the Board of Parole.

New TNJ edition alert: The end or the beginning on FBI probe?

Then-House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin), right, meets with colleagues on the Senate floor on May 1, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The latest edition of The Tennessee Journal is out. Here is what’s in it:

— Are indictments the conclusion of FBI probe or opening gambit?

— Casada poised to lose legislative pension if he strikes plea deal.

— From the campaign trail: FEC flags filings for errors – but nothing yet on Andy Ogles, a temporary replacement for Mike Bell, and a soft landing for Amy Weirich.

— Obituary: Former longtime state research chief dies at 89.

Also: Bartlett puts ordinance seeking to limit campaign signs on hold, Shelby County clerk takes issue with being called AWOL for Jamaica trip, Asian-American groups oppose Biden’s nominee for federal prosecutor in the Eastern District, and Susan Lynn is sorry about all those things she said about Mae Beavers.

As always, access the your copy of the TNJ here.

Or subscribe here.

Skrmetti sworn in as Tennessee attorney general

Jonathan Skrmetti has been sworn is Tennessee attorney. He succeeds Herbert Slatery, who didn’t seek a second term.

Here’s the release from the AG’s office:

Nashville, TN – Jonathan Skrmetti was sworn in as Tennessee’s 28th Attorney General this morning at a private ceremony attended by his immediate family.  

“It is the honor of a lifetime to serve the people of Tennessee as their Attorney General and Reporter,” said General Skrmetti.  “I look forward to promoting the rule of law and advocating for the rights and freedoms of all Tennesseans.”

Attorney General Skrmetti was appointed by the Tennessee Supreme Court to serve an eight-year term on August 10, 2022. Tennessee is the only state where the Supreme Court selects the Attorney General.

Prior to his appointment, Attorney General Skrmetti served as Chief Counsel to Governor Bill Lee and as Chief Deputy Attorney General. Before his work on behalf of the State of Tennessee, General Skrmetti was a partner at Butler Snow LLP in Memphis and served as a federal prosecutor for almost a decade, first at the Civil Rights Division and then as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Memphis. He also taught cyberlaw as an adjunct professor at the University of Memphis.

Attorney General Skrmetti earned honors degrees from George Washington University, the University of Oxford, and Harvard Law School, where he was editor-in-chief of the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy.  Following law school, he clerked for Judge Steven Colloton on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.  He and his wife and four children currently reside in Franklin and attend Harpeth Hills Church of Christ.

Lee gives update on school safety efforts

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters after a bill signing ceremony in Nashville on May 24, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A release from Gov. Bill Lee’s office:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee released a video update on key actions the Lee administration has taken to enhance school safety following Executive Order 97, which directed state agencies to engage parents, increase transparency and collaborate with local law enforcement and school districts.

“Our administration has taken meaningful steps to further strengthen school safety in Tennessee by engaging parents, evaluating security measures and strengthening partnerships with law enforcement,” said Lee. “Nothing is more important than the safety of our children, and I thank Tennesseans for doing their part as we continue our coordinated effort to protect students and teachers across the state.”

The Lee administration has taken the following actions to further enhance school safety across Tennessee and promote engagement with parents, schools and law enforcement:

Engaging Parents

— More than 10,000 Tennesseans are using the Safe TN app, a free resource to quickly and confidentially report safety concerns at a child’s school, with a record 2,000 downloads this month

— Expanded School-Based Behavioral Health Liaisons to cover all 95 counties

— Mobile crisis providers are available to families across the state and can be reached by dialing ‘988’

Securing Schools

— Every Tennessee school has completed a physical school security assessment – a total of 1,838 schools

— More than two-thirds of school districts – 104 districts – have participated in school safety training
Frequent, unannounced checks are being prioritized to see that school doors latch and precautions are in place

— Every school district has received an updated School Safety Plan Template

Partnering with Law Enforcement

— State and local law enforcement have collaborated to provide proven, hands-on active shooter training courses in each Grand Division

— Updated training has been provided to more than 600 School Resource Officers

— Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers are building stronger relationships with local school leadership

In the coming months, additional resources will be made available to support parents, teachers and law enforcement in improving school security practices. Future actions will include:

— Tennessee parents and schools will have access to a new School Safety Resource and Engagement Guide
— School districts will receive updated building security standards
— State and local law enforcement will be supported through improved recruitment and training efforts

Achy breaky vendor? Informants say Smith called purported operative ‘Matthew Cyrus’

House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) speaks to Republican colleagues in Nashville on April 23, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Three confidential informants within the Cordell Hull Building assisted federal investigators in a probe into the activities of former House Speaker Glen Casada, then-Rep. Robin Smith, and ex-legislative staffer Cade Cothren, according to court documents obtained The Tennessean’s Adam Friedman, Melissa Brown, and Mariah Timms.

An affidavit filed in support of the search of the FBI’s search of Smith’s home and electronic devices in January 2021 was apparently inadvertently left open for public perusal in East Tennessee federal court. The document has since been sealed, but not before the Tennessean reporters got their hands on it.

The affidavit recounts how the confidential informants began relaying details to investigators in May 2020, specifically about how Smith promoted a vendor called Phoenix Solutions to colleagues. According to Smith’s guilty plea earlier this year and last week’s indictments of Casada and Cothren, the outfit was run by Cothren and the two lawmakers allegedly received kickbacks for directing business to it.

The informants told the FBI there had been several gaps in the efforts by Smith and Casada to hid Cothren’s participation. They included his endorsement of checks meant for Phoenix Solutions and having money direct deposited into a Davidson County bank even though the company was ostensibly based in New Mexico.

Smith told caucus members Phoenix Solutions was run by a man named Matthew Phoenix who had previously worked for Jamestown Associates, a real political consulting company based in Washington. But investigators established nobody by that name had worked for Jamestown. After the meeting, Smith appeared to slip up while speaking to a confidential informant, calling the operative “Matthew Cyrus.” She later tried to correct herself by saying Cyrus was Phoenix’s middle name, the warrant said.

A third informant recorded a call in which Smith said she sometimes got confused because the consultant went by both Matthew Phoenix and Matthew Cyrus.

Meanwhile, Andy Sher of the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports Smith has asked for her sentencing to be delayed from its original date of Oct. 17 to at least the end of January 2023.

“The plea agreement . . .  contemplates the defendant will cooperate with the government in this and related cases,” the motion said. “It is anticipated the defendant will testify in United States v. Casada.”

The judge in the Casada and Cothren case has scheduled the trial to begin Oct. 25, though it’s likely proceedings will be delayed if the defendants waive their right to a speedy trial.

UPDATE: Smith’s sentencing has been rescheduled for Jan. 30.

New TNJ edition alert: Feds finally drop the hammer on Casada, Cothren

Cade Cothren, speaking on phone, attends a meeting with lawmakers and fellow staffers on the balcony outside the House chamber on April 29, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The latest print edition of The Tennessee Journal is out. Here is what’s in it:

— Feds charge former House speaker, aide with bribery, kickbacks.

— Casada, Cothren case assigned to judge who once prosecuted John Ford.

— Leaked poll for education group finds ‘slippage’ in support for charter schools.

— Dale Kelly, lawmaker, basketball ref, and longtime mayor, dies at 82.

Also: Memphis school superintendent takes buyout, TDOT gets a new chief engineer, Tennessean editor’s comments draw a social media backlash, and the ongoing license plate drama in Shelby County.

As always, access the your copy of the TNJ here.

Or subscribe here.

First Lady Maria Lee diagnosed with lymphoma

Gov. Bill Lee and his wife, Maria, clap along to “Rocky Top” at his inauguration celebration in Nashville on Jan. 19, 2019. (Erik Schelzig)

First Lady Maria Lee has been diagnosed with lymphoma, Gov. Bill Lee’s office announced Friday.

“Maria and I have learned that she has lymphoma and will begin treatment immediately,” Gov. Bill Lee said in a statement. “While this news is unexpected, her prognosis is good and it is treatable. Maria and I deeply appreciate prayers for healing. We are hopeful and will share more in the days ahead.”

State: You can’t overdose on fentanyl by touching objects

Fentanyl cannot be be absorbed by touching items or surfaces where the drug had been located, the state Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services advised on Wednesday.

“It’s so important to separate fact from fiction when it comes to fentanyl because Tennesseans are dying of overdose by the thousands. It is our hope that these facts will help people who are struggling with opioid use reach to treatment if they need it and find a new life in recovery,” the department’s commissioner, Marie Williams, said in a release.

Here’s the full statement:

NASHVILLE, Tenn.—The Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (TDMHSAS) and Department of Health today issued new guidance and information around fentanyl and what to do in case of a potential exposure.

Recent media reports have highlighted stories of exposure to a white powdery substance assumed to be fentanyl and the wide variety of adverse medical reactions that followed. While these stories are disturbing, it is important for everyone involved to separate fact from fiction when talking about fentanyl exposure to avoid unnecessary confusion and panic.

Illicit fentanyl cannot be absorbed through the skin or by touching an item or surface where it is present. When in powder form, fentanyl and its analogs (including carfentanil and fluorofentanyl) cannot be absorbed through the skin. Dissolving the powder in a liquid does not change this property. Wet objects do not pose an increased risk for an overdose caused by casual exposure.

“It’s so important to separate fact from fiction when it comes to fentanyl because Tennesseans are dying of overdose by the thousands. It is our hope that these facts will help people who are struggling with opioid use reach to treatment if they need it and find a new life in recovery,” said TDMHSAS Commissioner Marie Williams, LCSW.

“Overdoses are heart-wrenching, for those who live through them and for the family and friends of those who don’t,” said TDH Commissioner Dr. Morgan McDonald, MD FACP FAAP. “We are taking every opportunity to provide care and information to those dealing with addiction to prevent deaths and overdoses from fentanyl and opioids.”

What should you do if you believe you have been exposed to a substance that could be fentanyl?

• Do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth.
• Wash your hands with soap and water to remove any substance from your hands.
• If you begin to experience any adverse medical symptoms, seek medical attention.

Symptoms of opioid/fentanyl overdose include pinpoint pupils, falling asleep or losing consciousness, slow and shallow breathing, choking or gurgling sounds, limp body, and pale, blue, or cold skin. If you suspect an overdose, call 911, and administer naloxone (Narcan) if available. Do not leave the person alone.

Symptoms such as alertness, rapid heartbeat, hyperventilating, sweating, chills, numbness in fingers are NOT typically associated with opioid/fentanyl overdoses, though they may need medical attention. These symptoms are more commonly associated with anxiety or a panic attack.

For a fentanyl overdose to occur, the powder must enter the bloodstream and get to the brain. This is why it is important to avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth until you can wash your hands. Fentanyl can also enter the bloodstream through cuts or wounds on the skin. Wounds must be open and visible to allow fentanyl to enter.

Prescription fentanyl transdermal patches dispensed by a licensed pharmacist are especially formulated to include other pharmaceutical ingredients designed to increase the permeability of the skin which allows a small amount of fentanyl to be absorbed very slowly. Full absorption of fentanyl through a patch takes 3-13 hours. Proper disposal of patches reduces the risk of ingestion by children and pets.

To learn more about fentanyl, overdose reversal, and how to save a life with naloxone, please reach out to the Regional Overdose Prevention Specialist who serves your area. Additionally, you can find recorded trainings and information about fentanyl on our website at this link: TN.gov/behavioral-health/fentanyl. If you or someone you love needs connection to addiction treatment services call or text the Tennessee REDLINE at 800-889-9789 for free and confidential referrals.

Casada indictment drops on 3rd anniversary of successor Sexton’s election as House speaker

Rep. Cameron Sexton presides over his first session as House speaker on Aug. 23, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Three years to the day that Rep. Cameron Sexton took over as speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives, federal prosecutors indicted his predecessor, Glen Casada, on bribery and kickback charges.

Here’s what Sexton had to say about Tuesday’s charges against Casada and his onetime chief of staff, Cade Cothren:

In Tennessee, we will not tolerate public corruption, defrauding our state, or bribery at any level. I commend the Federal Bureau of Investigation for its hard work, diligence, and dedication that resulted in this morning’s arrests.

As I have previously stated on several occasions, shortly after becoming speaker in 2019, I began assisting the federal authorities during and throughout their investigation — including leading up to today’s indictments, and I will continue to do so if a trial is needed.

Together, our legislative body has stood strong over the past two years to take significant actions during this investigation by passing laws to strengthen campaign finance regulations and new ethics laws for elected officials and staff.

Today is a good day for Tennesseans because we did not turn a blind eye on these criminal activities.

And here is House Democratic leader Karen Camper’s reaction:

When something like this happens, it reflects poorly on the entire Legislature. We are elected to serve the public and when that trust is broken, it’s very disheartening and erodes the confidence that our constituents have in government. This does however, highlight how badly campaign finance reform continues to be needed and that bi-partisan legislation already passed needs to go much farther.

This from House Republican leader William Lamberth and House Republican Caucus Chair Jeremy Faison:

The illegal behavior outlined in today’s indictments is extremely serious, and disappointing to our entire caucus. We appreciate Speaker Sexton’s leadership on this situation, as well as the efforts of our House leadership team in bringing these crimes to light. We also stand with federal law enforcement and are grateful for their efforts to hold those responsible for these crimes accountable. Now, we can all move forward and continue focusing on meeting the needs of citizens across Tennessee.

And here is Gov. Bill Lee’s spokeswoman Casey Sellers:

We trust the legal process and continue to hold Tennessee’s public servants to high standards of accountability. The Governor commends Speaker Sexton for running the House with integrity and setting the expectation that elected leaders must serve Tennesseans in good faith.

‘Make sure no one knows it’s me:’ Read the 20-count indictment of former speaker, top aide

Cade Cothren, speaking on phone, attends a meeting with lawmakers and fellow staffers on the balcony outside the House chamber on April 29, 2019. At right is then-Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin). (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Here is the the 20-count federal indictment of former state House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) and his onetime chief of staff, Cade Cothren:

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA v. [1] GLEN CASADA, [2] CADE COTHREN. No. 3:22-00282

INDICTMENT

THE GRAN JURY CHARGES:

BACKGROUND ALLEGATIONS

At all times material to this Indictment unless otherwise indicated:

1. The Constitution of the State of Tennessee (“the State”) established that the legislative authority of the State shall be vested in a General Assembly, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.

2. The Tennessee House of Representatives (“Tennessee House”) consisted of approximately ninety-nine members appointed among counties and electoral districts. Representatives served two-year terms. The Speaker of the House was the presiding officer of the Tennessee House.

3. GLEN CASADA was a member of the Tennessee House, representing District 63, which included part of Williamson County, Tennessee. CASADA was first elected to the Tennessee House in or around 2003 and was reelected to serve as a Representative in each subsequent General Assembly. CASADA served as Speaker of the Tennessee House from in or around January 2019 until in or around August 2019. In or around August 2019, CASADA resigned as Speaker after allegations became public regarding his then Chief of Staff, CADE COTHREN, but CASADA remained as a member of the Tennessee House.

4. Individual 4 was a member of the Tennessee House, representing District 26, which included part of Hamilton County, Tennessee. Individual 4 was first elected to the Tennessee House in or around November 2018 and was reelected in or around November 2020.

5. Individual 4 owned and operated a political consulting company called Company 1. Company 1 provided political consulting, mail, and project management services. Company 1 held Bank Account x0738 at Financial Institution 2.

6. CASADA owned and operated a political consulting company called Company 2. CASADA started Company 2 in or around October 2019. Company 2 held Bank Account x4447 at Financial Institution 2.

7. As Representatives, CASADA and Individual 4 each held an office of trust under the Constitution of the State of Tennessee and owed a fiduciary duty to provide honest services to the State and its citizens. As members of the State of Tennessee’s 111th General Assembly, on or about January 8, 2019, CASADA and Individual 4 each swore that they would “not propose or assent to any bill, vote or resolution, which shall appear to me injurious to the people, or consent to any act or thing, whatever, that shall have a tendency to lessen or abridge their rights and privileges.”

8. The Tennessee House adopted Permanent Rules of Order for the 111th General Assembly. The Rules included an Ethics Code, which stated that “Representatives should avoid conduct that even appears to violate the trust that the people have placed in them.” Conduct violating the Ethics Code included: “Actions that destroy a representative’s independence of judgment as a legislator”; “Actions that are an abuse of the representative’s official position, including, but not limited to, placing undue influence upon any state department, agency, court or governmental subdivision”; and “Actions that are a personal interest in conflict with the proper discharge of the representative’s duties.” The Tennessee House adopted the Rules of Order under CASADA’s name as Speaker, and, while he served in this role, CASADA was responsible for preserving them. As Speaker, CASADA was also responsible for appointing members of the House Ethics Committee.

9. COTHREN was a businessman and former Chief of Staff to CASADA when CASADA was Tennessee House Speaker. In 2019, multiple news forums published allegations that COTHREN had engaged in inappropriate conduct. On or about May 3, 2019, COTHREN resigned his position as Chief of Staff.

10. In or around November 2019, COTHREN established Phoenix Solutions, LLC, with CASADA and Individual 4’s knowledge and support. Phoenix Solutions provided constituent mail services to members of the Tennessee General Assembly and to political campaigns for State offices. Phoenix Solutions held Bank Account x3886 at Financial Institution 1 and Bank Account x9665 at Financial Institution 3.

11. The State allocated Tennessee Representatives $3,000 annually to fund postage and printing of items to be sent to the legislators’ constituents (the “Mailer Program”). According to Tennessee House guidelines, Representatives were permitted to use Mailer Program funds to design and mail legislative update mailers and legislative surveys to their constituents. Representatives were permitted to use campaign funds to offset additional expenses beyond the $3,000 allocated under the Mailer Program.

12. The Tennessee House Speaker’s Office had the authority to approve or deny a vendor to provide services or any mailing funded by the Mailer Program.

13. The Office of Legislative Administration (“OLA”) managed the operation of the Mailer Program in consultation with the Senate and House Speakers. OLA’s Director of Legislation, in consultation with the Senate and House Speakers and their Offices, was responsible for approving invoices related to the Mailer Program and managing disbursements of State funds to vendors.

14. In each of the calendar years 2019, 2020, and 2021, the State of Tennessee received more than $10,000 in federal benefits.

COUNT ONE

18 U.S.C. § 371

(Conspiracy)

15. Paragraphs 1 through 14 are incorporated and realleged as if fully set forth herein.

I. Objects of the Conspiracy

16. Beginning in or around October 2019 and continuing until in or around January 2021, in the Middle District of Tennessee and elsewhere, CASADA and COTHREN did knowingly conspire and agree with each other and with other individuals known and unknown to the Grand Jury, to commit the following offenses against the United States:

a. Theft Concerning Programs Receiving Federal Funds: that is, for CASADA and Individual 4, agents of Tennessee, a State which during each of calendar years 2019, 2020, and 2021 received federal benefits in excess of $10,000, and together with and aided and abetted by COTHREN, and others known and unknown to the Grand Jury, to embezzle, steal, obtain by fraud, and otherwise without authority knowingly convert to the use of any person other than the rightful owner and intentionally misapply, property that is valued at $5,000 or more, and was owned by, and was under the care, custody, and control of the State of Tennessee, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 666(a)(l)(A) and 2;

b. Bribery and Kickbacks Concerning Programs Receiving Federal Funds: that is, for CASADA and Individual 4, agents of Tennessee, a State which during each of calendar years 2019, 2020, and 2021 received federal benefits in excess of $10,000, aided and abetted by others known and unknown to the Grand Jury, to corruptly solicit, demand, accept, and agree to accept for their own benefit, things of value from COTHREN, intending to be influenced and rewarded in connection with a business, transaction, and series of transactions of the State of Tennessee valued at $5,000 or more, that is, payments of State funds to Phoenix Solutions, both directly and through Company 1 and Company 2, for mailer services, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 666(a)(l)(B) and 2;

c. Bribery and Kickbacks Concerning Programs Receiving Federal Funds: that is, for COTHREN, aided and abetted by others known and unknown to the Grand Jury, to corruptly give, offer, and agree to give things of value to CASADA and Individual 4, agents of Tennessee, a State which during each of calendar years 2019, 2020, and 2021 received federal benefits in excess of $10,000, intending to influence and reward CASADA and Individual 4 in connection with a business, transaction, and series of transactions of the State of Tennessee valued at $5,000 or more, that is, payments of State funds to Phoenix Solutions, both directly and through Company 1 and Company 2, for mailer services in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 666(a)(2) and 2; and

d. Honest-Services Wire Fraud: that is, for CASADA, COTHREN, and Individual 4, and others known and unknown to the Grand Jury, to devise and intend to devise a scheme and artifice to defraud and to deprive Tennessee and the citizens of Tennessee of their right to the honest services of a public official, namely, the honest services of CASADA and Individual 4, members of the Tennessee House of Representatives and elected state officials, through bribery and kickbacks, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1343 and 1346.

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