informants

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.