glen casada

Casada blasts Registry as ‘biased,’ Ogles threatens legislative action to halt subpoenas

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

Former House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) on Friday called the members of the Registry of Election Finance “biased” for subpoenaing information from him about a political action committee allegedly created at the behest of his onetime chief of staff, Cade Cothren.

Speaking at a Williamson Inc. forum, Rep. Brandon Ogles (R-Franklin) also blasted the move, saying the House plans to take a “deep dive” into the powers of the campaign finance board’s powers. Ogles is close friends with Cothren and was a prominent Casada loyalist before his speakership collapsed in 2019.

Casada is retiring from the House and running for Williamson County clerk this year. The Registry in 2020 hit Casada with a $10,500 civil penalty for failing to keep receipts for $99,000 worth of expenditures made by his PAC. He also had his home and office searched by FBI agents early last year.

The Registry last week voted to issue subpoenas after a former girlfriend of Cothren’s testified under oath that she had set up a political action committee called the Faith Family Freedom Fund at his urging, but then had nothing to with it as it bankrolled attacks on the re-election bid of then-Rep. Rick Tillis (R-Lewisburg). Email correspondence between someone purporting to be herself and the Registry did not come from her, she said.

Here is a transcript of the Williamson Inc. meeting on Friday:

Dave Crouch, moderator: The elephant in the room maybe this morning is you’ve been in the paper with some questions been asked about various things here recently. Is there anything you would like to say?

Glen Casada: I feel like a kid sitting on the side of the road, and someone’s just some come and punched me in the nose for no reason. If you didn’t know, the election registry of finance has subpoenaed me to ask me questions on a PAC. And the frustrating thing is, Dave, I have no knowledge of this PAC, I have no association, and there’s no reason to think that I do. And I realize three years ago, I was quite involved politically across the state on elections and getting people elected. But I just feel like the board has a bias, you know? And so, so let me just be very clear. And I was very clear [when I ] contacted them. Guys, not only do I not know, or never heard of this PAC, or no association with it. Why would you even reach out and punch me in the nose like you did? You know, there’s no reason to do that. So, so let me just put that to bed. And thank you for this opportunity to address it.

Crouch: I’m gonna push back a little just for conversation here. Cade Cothren was your chief of staff?

Casada: Yes. Three years ago.

Crouch: When you were speaker of House?

Casada: He was.

Crouch: And apparently he’s the one that had his girlfriend set this PAC up. That’s correct?

Casada: Yes.

Crouch: And why would he have done that?

Casada: You could ask Sam [Whitson], Brandon [Ogles], or Jack [Johnson] that question. I don’t know. I mean, there’s no association. It’s been three years ago when he was employed by me. So again, it’s just a bias on that board’s opinion. And the legislature gave them certain powers to be deliberative, and to be fair, and not biased. And I feel like you’re exhibiting biases by just assuming because he once worked for me three years ago, you know, that somehow I’m involved. And that’s not the way we run public policy.

Crouch: I just, I didn’t want to totally ignore the subject. I want to just air it out some. Brandon, you’ve got a comment?

Brandon Ogles: I’d like to speak to this because there was a conversation yesterday with members of the Judiciary Committee in the House. The fact that some of the things that were said in the press, they were so sloppily said by these committee members. For them to issue a subpoena that’s not signed by a judge, there’s going to be ramifications for that when you start threatening people to subpoena them. Some of these boards that we’ve set up in the state of Tennessee, these pseudo-entities, even entities within the state of Tennessee, that threaten people. And to issue subpoenas that have no weight, or credit, or value – and are not signed by a judge – circumvents every judiciary process we have in this state, both criminally and civilly. So we’re going to deep dive into this, this threat to subpoena people. And if this continues, remember: also the House committees can subpoena as well. So this will be interesting to watch play out. I’m going to enjoy being a member of Judiciary and seeing this come to light.

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.

Ex-girlfriend testifies Cothren had her register PAC that attacked Casada foe Tillis

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)

In remarkable sworn testimony to the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance on Thursday, the treasurer of a mysterious political action committee testified she had registered the outfit at the behest of her then-boyfriend, Cade Cothren, and had nothing further to do with it thereafter.

“I asked him if it was illegal to open it for him,” said Sydney Friedopfer, a former Vanderbilt student who now lives in Utah. “And he said no. And he said he just couldn’t have a name on it, considering everything he had gone through.”

The Family Faith Freedom Fund PAC was involved in attacking then-Rep. Rick Tillis (R-Lewisburg), a foe of Cothren and his former boss, House Speaker Glen Casada, in the 2020 primary won by now-Rep. Todd Warner. (Just as a reminder, Cothren, Casada, Warner, and Rep. Robin Smith had their homes and offices searched by the FBI around this time last year).

Here is a transcript of Friedopfer’s testimony to the Registry on Thursday. The other speakers are Registry chair Paige Burcham Dennis, general counsel Lauren Topping, executive director Bill Young, and members Tom Lawless, David Golden, and Hank Fincher.

Paige Burcham Dennis: Miss Sydney, are you on the phone today?

Sydney Friedopfer: Yes, I am.

Paige Burcham Dennis: OK, before we get to you. I want to remind you, we’re going to have Lauren, give us a little bit of background on the Faith Family Freedom Fund case. But I do want to remind you that you are under oath today even though you’re participating by phone.

Sydney Friedopfer: OK, yep, no problem.

Paige Burcham Dennis: OK. Lauren, can you give the Registry a little bit of background on what’s going on with the Faith Family Freedom Fund case?

Lauren Topping: So as you’ll recall, this case came about as a result of a complaint that was filed with the Registry. As a result of that, there was an audit that was ordered. Up until this point in time, we had been unable to reach Ms. Friedopfer. And so the audit report basically says that we were unable to obtain any information. I think that’s all in your packet. But since then, we have been able to contact her and so she is here on the line today to tell you what she knows. So that’s kind of where we are.

Paige Burcham Dennis: OK, so at this time, Sydney, I understand you’re in Utah. Is that correct?

Sydney Friedopfer: Yes, that’s correct.

Paige Burcham Dennis: OK. I’m Chairman Burcham Dennis, and we’re going to let you tell us what you would like to tell us concerning the case.

Sydney Friedopfer: OK. So I guess I don’t have the exact date, sometime in end of 2019, early 2020. I had a friend of mine that I met when I was back at Vanderbilt ask me to open a political action committee for him. I was advised that I should tell you the name. The name is Cade Cothren. And I trusted him.

Paige Burcham Dennis: Could you repeat that? His name was what?

Sydney Friedopfer: Cade Cothren.

Paige Burcham Dennis: OK.

Sydney Friedopfer: Being a 22, 23-year-old at the time, I, unfortunately, did not have any information about politics. I asked him if it was illegal to open it for him. And he said no. 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. 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. Like being young and dumb, honestly, regarding this, I –

Paige Burcham Dennis: So Sydney, you had an involvement, a relationship or friendship, with him. And he asked you to do this on his behalf. That’s what you’re saying?

Sydney Friedopfer: Yes. I mean, yeah. At the time, I thought I loved him, I guess. But I was young and he’s 10 years older than me. And I trusted him. And so I opened the political action committee for him. And I filed the papers, signed my name, and that was the last I heard of it. I received the e-filing thing in the mail. And I just sent him a picture of that. And he took over from there. And I didn’t hear about it again until a reporter started calling me. But the first time I had anyone call me from a reputable source that I was going to talk to was when Lauren called me a few weeks ago.

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New TNJ edition alert: Casada’s fall, Bell bows out, Durham decision

House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) checks his phone in the House chamber in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

In this week’s edition of the print edition of The Tennessee Journal:

— Casada won’t run again after fall from speaker to delivery driver. Could run for Williamson County clerk be next?

— Redistricting: Bell, Casada retirements grant breathing room to mapmakers.

— Lee favorite bows out, leaving wide-open competition for Supreme Court opening.

— We have a ruling over ousted Rep. Durham’s record penalty for campaign finance violations.

— A shakeup at the top in Gov. Bill Lee’s office.

Also: Hagerty hits fellow Republicans over infrastructure vote, the Barretts host a fundraiser for Ketron, Trump endorses Fleischmann, and mirrors on the ceiling at the governor’s mansion (shudder).

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

Former House Speaker Casada to retire amid FBI scrutiny

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

Former state House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) announced he won’t seen another term in 2022. The decision comes after federal agents searched his home and office before the start of the legislative session in January. No charges have been filed.

Casada stepped down as speaker in 2019 following a text messaging scandal with this former chief of staff, Cade Cothren, and a revolt among Republican lawmakers over his heavy-handed leadership style.

Casada has denied offering inducements to lawmakers to vote in favor of Gov. Bill Lee’s signature school voucher bill, which narrowly passed the chamber after the speaker kept the voting board open to cajole holdouts to switch their votes. Rep. Jason Zachary (R-Knoxville) ultimately changed his vote from no to yes after being promised his home county would be kept out of the bill.

Here’s the release from Casada:

Franklin, TN – Glen Casada (Republican, Dist. 63) announced today that he will not seek re-election to the State House, marking the end of a 20-year career as state representative. Casada has served as Caucus Chairman, Majority Leader and Speaker of the House. “This decision comes after much prayer and thought,” said Casada. “I am blessed and grateful to have served Williamson County and to have achieved many goals for my constituents, but it is time for a new chapter of public service.”

Casada sponsored the landmark constitutional amendment to ban the personal state income tax, and has successfully sponsored numerous conservative, pro-life and pro­ business initiatives. Several organizations have honored Casada as Legislator of the Year throughout his public service career.

Rep. Sam Whitson (Republican, Dist. #65) commented, “I strongly feel that Katie Beckett will be Glen’s legacy,” referring to the 2019 law that gave access to life-saving medical treatments and therapies to children with special needs. Casada secured funding for the program. “This law would not have been possible without his support and leadership.”

Elected to the Democrat-controlled State House in 2001, Casada worked tirelessly to support conservative candidates across the state. Those efforts were successfully rewarded in 2008 when voters flipped the State Assembly to a Republican majority for the first time since 1868.

“Glen’s strong conservative voice will be greatly missed,” said Rep. Brandon Ogles (Republican, Dist. #61). “Tennessee is better off today because of Glen’s investment in our state.”

Senator Jack Johnson (Republican, Dist. #23) remarked, “Rep. Casada is a great friend and a tremendous asset to our community. I am grateful for his conservative leadership and service to Williamson County and Tennessee.”

In search of Phoenix Solutions

The mailing address of Phoenix Solutions, a PostNet store in Santa Fe, N.M., on July 2, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Tennessee Journal has ventured deep into New Mexico in search of the elusive political mail vendor believed to be at the center of a federal investigation into three sitting state lawmakers.

The mailing address of Phoenix Solutions is a mailbox store in a strip mall in Santa Fe, located next to a shuttered vape shop. Other businesses in the complex include a Harbor Freight tool store, a Carl’s Jr. fast food restaurant, and a drive-thru coffee shop called Agapao. Felipe’s Tacos is located across the street. There was no sign of the vendor’s purported proprietor, Matthew Phoenix, whom nobody has been able to reach since last year.

The mailing address of Phoenix Solutions, a PostNet store in Santa Fe, N.M., on July 2, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The FBI in January raided the offices of Republican Reps. Glen Casada of Franklin, Robin Smith of Hixson, and Todd Warner of Chapel Hill, along with the home of Cade Cothren, the former chief of staff to Casada when he was House speaker. Investigators have been mum about the reasons for the raid, but speculation has centered on the sudden prominence of Phoenix Solutions starting in early 2020.

The mailing address of Phoenix Solutions, a PostNet store in Santa Fe, N.M., on July 2, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Holt Whitt, the interim chief of staff for Casada and current speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) has obtained a letter from federal prosecutors that he is considered a witness in the case. Suspended after he was questioned in the January raids, Whitt has now been hired as Human Resources adviser in Gov. Bill Lee’s adminstration.

Is Matthew Phoenix out here somewhere? Santa Fe, N.M., on July 2, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

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.