glen casada

Report: Feds asked lawmaker if he knew Casada, Cothren were owners of Phoenix Solutions

House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) checks his phone as he awaits the joint convention to hear Gov. Bill Lee’s first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

State Rep. Kent Calfee (R-Kingston) tells the Tennessee Lookout’s Sam Stockard federal agents asked him whether he was aware of the roles of former House Speaker Glen Casada and his onetime chief of staff, Cade Cothren, in a mysterious campaign vendor.

“They asked me if I knew Cade Cothren and Glen Casada were owners of Phoenix Solutions,” Calfee told the publication.

The FBI raided the homes and offices of Casada, Cothren, and Reps. Robin Smith (R-Hixson) and Todd Warner (R-Chapel Hill) on the eve of the legislative session in January.

Calfee said FBI agents searched the computer of his assistant, Nadine Korby, who has been placed on administrative leave along with Casada aide Carol Simpson and interim chief of staff, Holt Whitt.

Calfee, a critic of the way school voucher legislation was passed in 2019, told the Lookout he believes the FBI is conducting three investigations, but declined to give specifics.

As first reported by The Tennessee Journal, federal agents had conducted interviews throughout the legislative session of lawmakers who engaged Casada and Smith for political consulting work.

As recently as the last day of the session, state Rep. Jason Zachary (R-Knoxville) told colleagues he had spoken to federal agents in his office. Zachary spent $4,408 with vendor Phoenix Solutions (though he misspelled it as “Phenoix Solutions” on his disclosures), the outfit believed to be at the center of the FBI probe.

Several colleagues have said Smith was a vocal advocate for steering more political work to Phoenix Solutions. She and Casada have both declined to say whether they have an ownership stake in the business.

“They did not tell me I couldn’t disclose the information that we discussed,” Zachary explained to Chattanooga Times Free Press reporter Andy Sher earlier this month, adding “even with my colleagues, I’ve still tried to be very careful about disclosing what we discussed.”

“Everything centered around the investigation with my colleagues, specifically Rep. Casada, Rep. Smith… I did a survey with Glen and it went through the Phoenix Solutions,” Zachary told the paper.

State Rep. Mike Carter passes away

Rep Mike Carter is sworn in to the 111th General Assembly in Nashville on Jan. 8, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

State Rep. Mike Carter, whose refusal to sign what he called a “predetermined” ethics report helped hasten Rep. Glen Casada’s departure as House speaker, has died of pancreatic cancer.

Carter, an Ooltewah Republican, made his own bid for speaker after Casada announced he would step down in 2019, but the contest was won by Rep. Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville).

Carter’s cancer was discovered after he was hit by a heavy bout of COVID-19 last year. He missed most of the recently-completed legislative session while undergoing treatment.

FBI agents interviewed lawmakers throughout session, Zachary says Casada promoted Phoenix

Federal agents meet with legislative staffers outside the office of Rep. Glen Casada (R-Franklin) in Nashville on Jan. 8, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

As first reported in the print edition of The Tennessee Journal, federal agents have been conducting interviews throughout the legislative session of lawmakers who engaged Republican Reps. Glen Casada of Franklin and Robin Smith of Hixson for political consulting work.

As recently as the last day of the session, state Rep. Jason Zachary (R-Knoxville) told colleagues he had spoken to federal agents in his office. Zachary spent $4,408 with vendor Phoenix Solutions (though he misspelled it as “Phenoix Solutions” on his disclosures), the outfit believed to be at the center of the FBI probe.

Several colleagues have said Smith was a vocal advocate for steering more political work to Phoenix Solutions. She and Casada have both declined to say whether they have an ownership stake in the business.

“They did not tell me I couldn’t disclose the information that we discussed,” Zachary explained to Chattanooga Times Free Press reporter Andy Sher following the Journal report, adding “even with my colleagues, I’ve still tried to be very careful about disclosing what we discussed.”

“Everything centered around the investigation with my colleagues, specifically Rep. Casada, Rep. Smith… I did a survey with Glen and it went through the Phoenix Solutions,” Zachary told the paper.

It’s the first time Phoenix Solutions has been publicly linked to Casada, a former House speaker. Others have said they were told to bill the vendor for work done at the behest of his former chief of staff, Cade Cothren, or at the urging of Smith.

Zachary said he didn’t feel he provided any new information to agents “because Glen never pressured me, he didn’t hound me” to use the firm.

Registered in New Mexico in December 2019, Phoenix Solutions ended up receiving $231,000 from Tennessee Republicans in 2020. According to federal tax documents filed with the state, the company was run by a Matthew Phoenix, who at least one state lawmaker said he spoke to on the phone, but none has said to have met in person.

Smith’s attorney, Ben Rose, told the Times Free Press it was “news to us that Zachary, No. 1, has been talking to the FBI and that Zachary was, No. 2, a client of Phoenix. And it certainly didn’t have anything to do with [Smith].” He added, “Our position has been we continue to cooperate with the FBI.”

FBI visit to Tennessee Capitol sparks jitters

Federal agents meet with legislative staffers outside the office of Rep. Glen Casada (R-Franklin) in Nashville on Jan. 8, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

FBI agents visited the first floor of the state Capitol on Tuesday, setting off shockwaves around a statehouse complex still reeling from raids on three lawmakers’ homes and offices on the eve of the legislative session. But authorities were quick to disavow any connection to the probe into Republican Reps. Glen Casada of Franklin, Robin Smith of Hixson, and Todd Warner of Chapel Hill.

“The visit by several of our agents was not related to the raid that occured in January,” FBI spokeswoman Elizabeth Clement-Webb told The Tennessee Journal. “This was solely outreach.”

The agents were spotted flashing badges at troopers manning the gate to the Capitol, and later as they were escorted past security to the floor housing the offices of Gov. Bill Lee, his top advisers, and the state’s constitutional officers.

Lee spokeswoman Laine Arnold said the visit “had nothing to do with the raids.”

WTVF-TV’s Phil Williams has reported that Casada has been telling associates the FBI asked him questions about how he helped pass the governor’s signature school voucher law when he was the House speaker in 2019. Casada was asked about allegations of bribes being offered to help gain support, the people he spoke to told Williams.

Casada has denied offering inducements in exchange for votes when voucher bill was deadlocked on a 49-49 vote. The measure later passed by a single vote.

Warner files fundraising report after blaming FBI raid for delay

Rep. Todd Warner (R-Chapel Hill) is sworn into the House in Nashville on Jan. 12, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Freshman Rep. Todd Warner, one of three Republican House members who recently had their homes and offices raided by the FBI, has filed a campaign finance disclosure after previously saying he couldn’t access his records because they had been seized by the federal agents.

The Registry of Election Finance ruled this week that it didn’t have the authority to give Warner an extension due to the law enforcement activity and instructed him to reconstruct his report from online filings

According to the report, Warner’s top donations in the fourth quarter were $1,500 each from the PACs of Amazon and House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville). He also received $1,000 each from CVS Health, the Marshall County Republican Party, and Rep. Tim Rudd (R-Murfreesboro).

Warner reported raising a total of $9,750 and spending $1,183 during the period.

The other lawmakers searched by the FBI were Reps. Glen Casada of Franklin and Robin Smith of Hixson.

Paperwork for mystery vendor appears to have been improperly filed in registered agent’s name

Phoenix Solutions, the campaign vendor that has come under scrutiny following an FBI raid on Tennessee lawmakers last month, appears to have improperly filed its application to do business in the state.

A Spokane, Wash.-based company called Northwest Registered Agents LLC had been hired to originally register Phoenix Solutions in New Mexico in November 2019. When the company filed its papers with the Tennessee Secretary of State four days later, it submitted an electronic signature in the name of the same Northwest employee, Morgan Noble. The problem is that Noble did not submit the latter filing for Phoenix Solutions, according to her employer.

“We did not do that,” Jed Smith, a spokesman for Northwest Registered Agent LLC, told The Tennessee Journal. “It was unauthorized.”

The company remains a client of Northwest in both New Mexico and Tennessee, but Smith said “we weren’t hired” for registration purposes in the latter.

Phoenix Solutions did $231,144 worth of business with Tennessee Republicans — almost entirely from House members — in the year since emerging on the scene. Rep. Robin Smith of Hixson, a former state GOP chair and then a freshman lawmaker, was a chief proponent of directing caucus business toward Phoenix Solutions.

Smith, newly elected Rep. Todd Warner (R-Chapel Hill), and former House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) had their homes and offices searched by federal agents. Smith and Casada have declined to answer questions about whether they or former aide Cade Cothren (whose home was also searched) had any financial ties to Phoenix Solutions.

A phone number for Phoenix Solutions listed in invoices filed with the Tennessee General Assembly is disconnected.

Casada PAC attacks from 2018 appear to be templates for hit pieces on Tillis

A political action committee that ran attacks last summer against former Rep. Rick Tillis (R-Lewisburg) used the same template as hit pieces issued by the PAC of former House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) two years earlier.

The mailers attacking Tillis were run by a group called the Faith Freedom Family Fund, or FFFF. The ones targeting Jonathan Mason, a Republican candidate running for a Hamilton County House seat in 2018, were sent out by Red Ivory Strategies for Casada’s CAS-PAC. Red Ivory is owned by Michael Lotfi, whom Casada later hired for a no-show job at the General Assembly.

“Lying Rick Tillis will say & do anything to get elected … Don’t let him fool you!” reads an FFFF mailer.

“Lying Jonathan Mason will say & do anything to get elected … Don’t let him fool you!” says a CAS-PAC mailer.

Red Ivory received at least $135,000 from House Republicans in 2020, including $57,750 from the GOP caucus (which isn’t supposed to work against its own members).

The Tennessean has reported that former Casada aide Cade Cothren, who helped run CAS-PAC, also assigned work on behalf of FFFF.

Casada’s preferred candidate in the 2018 primary was Esther Helton of East Ridge, who went on to win the primary and the general election. A mailer from that race carried a Chattanooga postal permit number, 383, that has featured heavily in the Tillis primary.

Permit No. 383 was used in August by Tillis’ opponent Todd Warner, the FFFF PAC, and a campaign vendor called Phoenix Solutions, which has run mailers for a variety of GOP candidates. Rep. Robin Smith (R-Hixson) was a major promoter of Phoenix.

Smith, Casada, and Warner had their homes and offices searched by the FBI earlier this month, which agents also went through Cothren’s apartment.

First House GOP meeting following FBI raid will be secret

Rep. Glen Casada (R-Franklin) is seen through a smoked glass window to a closed Republican caucus meeting in Nashville on Jan. 12, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The House Republican Caucus is holding its first meeting since federal agents descended on the homes and offices of three sitting GOP members. It will be closed to the press and public under a new rule adopted by its members without debate following the November elections.

During the same meeting two years ago, then-House Speaker Glen Casada of Franklin made the hard sell on rule changes that ended the unrestricted power of the speaker pro tem to vote in any committees and eliminated floor speeches unrelated to pending bills or motions (the latter appeared to apply to all but then-Rep. John DeBerry or Memphis, who was continued to be allowed to speechify to his heart’s content).

Casada and fellow Republican Reps. Robin Smith of Hixson and Todd Warner of Chapel Hill were the subjects of FBI searches on Friday. The U.S. Attorney’s Office has not yet announced the reason for the probe. Search warrant affidavits remain sealed.

Rep. Robin Smith (R-Hixson) speaks to reporters in Nashville on Jan. 12, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Casada and fellow Republican Reps. Robin Smith of Hixson and Todd Warner of Chapel Hill were the subjects of FBI searches on Friday. The U.S. Attorney’s Office has not yet announced the reason for the probe. Search warrant affidavits remain sealed.

The meeting takes place on Tuesday morning before lawmakers are scheduled to start the 112th General Assembly by electing their respective speakers. Rep. Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) and Sen. Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) are expected to be re-elected without much trouble.

Rep. Todd Warner (R-Chapel Hill) is sworn into the House in Nashville on Jan. 12, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Senate Republican Caucus meetings remain open to the public.

McNally: Lawmakers should resign if arrested

Rep. Glen Casada speaks to fellow Republicans in a caucus meeting on Jan. 10, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Senate Speaker Randy McNally, an Oak Ridge Republican who wore a wire for the FBI in the Rocky Top investigation in the 1980s, says state lawmakers who who had their homes and offices searched by federal agents should resign if they are arrested.

“Of course nobody’s been arrested. They’ve just had search warrants,” McNally told the Chattanooga Times Free Press. “But, if somebody’s arrested, I think they should resign.”

The lawmakers who had their offices and homes raided on Friday include former House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin), Rep. Robin Smith (R-Hixson), and Rep. Todd Warner (R-Chapel Hill). The FBI is also looking into former top Casada aide Cade Cothren, interim House Chief of Staff Holt Whitt, and two legislative staffers.

So far we’ve heard from the lawyers of Smith and Whitt:

[Smith] intends to cooperate fully with the investigation in all respects. while she would have preferred to do so voluntarily, Robin understands this may not have been possible…. [She] “is not the target of the investigation, and she has not done anything wrong. Please understand that due to the ongoing investigation, Robin will not be providing any further comment.”

— Smith attorney Ben Rose to the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Holt Whitt was one of several individuals contacted by agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation regarding an ongoing investigation. Mr. Whitt is a well-respected legislative aide with an impeccable reputation, and he has not been charged with any wrongdoing. He is cooperating fully with the investigation. Out of respect for the legal process, Mr. Whitt will have no further public comment regarding this matter.”

— Whitt attorney Ty Howard.

Federal agents descended on Rep. Warner’s home and business in Marshall County with search warrants, the contents of which remain shrouded in mystery by the government. Significantly, Rep. Warner has not been charged with any wrongdoing.”

— Warner’s attorney Peter Strianse

FBI raids state lawmakers’ homes, offices

Federal agents and legislative staffers confer outside the office of Rep. Glen Casada (R-Franklin) on Jan. 8, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Federal agents descended on the homes and legislative offices of Republican state Reps. Glen Casada of Franklin, Robin Smith of Hixson, and Todd Warner of Chapel Hill on Friday. They also executed searches at the home of former Casada chief of staff Cade Cothren and three current legislative staffers.

The FBI didn’t say what it was investigating, though speculation spread around the Cordell Hull Building that agents were looking into efforts supporting Warner defeat of Rep. Rick Tillis (R-Lewisburg) in last year’s primary and the previous year’s push to pass a controversial school voucher bill.