faith family freedom fund

Registry refers Casada, Cothren probes to Williamson County prosecutor

Registry member Tom Lawless and then-Rep. Robin Smith (R-Hixson) confer on the House floor before Gov. Bill Lee’s State of the State address on Jan. 31, 2022. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Tennessee Registry of Election Finance is referring its investigations into former House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) and his onetime chief of staff, Cade Cothren, to Williamson County prosecutors.

The move comes after former Rep. Robin Smith (R-Hixson) pleaded guilty last week to a federal wire fraud charge over the creation of a front company called Phoenix Solutions, which obtained contracts to design, print, and send political mailers on behalf of Republican lawmakers.

Smith’s charging document made thinly-veiled references to Casada and Cothren, alleging they were heavily involved in the scheme.

The motion also sent prosecutors the case of the Faith Family Freedom Fund. The PAC’s treasurer testified to the panel in January that she had founded it at the behest of Cothren and had no further role in its activities. The outfit proceeded to lob attacks at then-Rep. Rick Tillis (R-Lewisburg) in his unsuccessful re-election bid in 2020.

Registry member Tom Lawless made the motion to involve Williamson County prosecutors, arguing it would be the appropriate venue because it covers Casada’s home area. He also raised concerns the issue could be “weaponized” amid a contested Democratic primary for Nashville district attorney. It’s unclear whether Williamson County DA Kim Helper will recuse herself from the case.

Cothren to take the Fifth in Registry probe

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

Cade Cothren, the onetime chief of staff to former House Speaker Glen Casada, intends to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination at a Registry of Election Finance hearing on Wednesday, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports.

“Cade Cothren objects to and will not respond to your subpoena,” his attorney, Cynthia A. Sherwood, wrote to the Registry last month. “This objection is based on the grounds that these subpoenas were made in bad faith and are an abuse of process.

“Furthermore,” she added, “Mr. Cothren invokes his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.”

The probe involves the role of the Faith Family Freedom Fund in attacking then-Rep. Rick Tillis of Lewisburg during his Republican primary in 2020. The PAC’s treasurer testified to the Registry by telephone in January that she had registered the group on behalf of Cothren, whom she had been dating at the time. Friedopfer said she had been “young and dumb” and didn’t know she would be liable for the PAC’s activities. Cothren advised her not to respond to a Registry audit of the PAC, she said.

The Registry responded by issuing subpoenas of Cothren, Casada, and the winning candidate in the 2020 race, Rep. Todd Warner (R-Chapel Hill).

Is that you, Cade? Read the email to the Registry the PAC’s treasurer says she didn’t write

The treasurer of a PAC that pilloried then-Rep. Rick Tillis (R-Lewisburg) in the 2020 primary says she never did anything beyond register the Faith Family Freedom Fund. Everything else, she testified to the Registry last week, was handled by the man she once thought she was in love with: Cade Cothren.

“He told me that none of this was illegal, that he didn’t do anything illegal, and that it was no big deal to open the political action committee,” said Sydney Friedopfer, a former Vanderbilt student.

“And he said he just couldn’t have a name on it, considering everything he had gone through, which I’m sure everyone’s aware,” she said. “But yeah, he resigned from his position as chief of staff to Glen Casada. And he didn’t want his name on the political action committees.”

Friedopfer, who now lives in Utah, said she was unaware the PAC had a Gmail address and that someone had been corresponding with the Registry under her name.

That was not me,” Friedopfer said.

An email purporting to be from Friedopfer was sent from a FaithFamilyFreedomTN@gmail.com account on Nov. 2, 2020. It was dismissive of a complaint filed against the PAC for allegedly coordinating its activities with Todd Warner, the Republican challenger who would go on to win the seat.

“It is extremely difficult to follow the rabbit holes of Mr. Hazelwood in this complaint and it seems the majority of his grievances are with other people/organizations,” the email said. “To our knowledge, we have disclosed all information required of our PAC in Tennessee and will certainly continue doing so.”

After offering to answer any further questions, the author signed off: “Thank you again, Sydney.”

The Registry last week voted to subpoena Cothren and others for more information about the PAC.