Former House Speaker Glen Casada and aide indicted on bribery, kickback charges

Casada and Cothren entered not guilty pleas in court Tuesday.

Former Tennessee House Speaker Rep. Glen Casada and his chief of staff were arrested at their homes by FBI agents Tuesday morning after a federal grand jury on Monday issued an indictment on 20-counts involving bribery, theft from programs receiving federal funds, kickbacks, conspiracy to commit money laundering and other charges, according to a news release from the US Department of Justice.

If convicted, each faces up to 20 years in prison.

Hours after their arrests, the pair appeared in a downtown federal courthouse in handcuffs. A deputy removed them. In the 30-minute hearing that followed, both men – represented by separate attorneys — pleaded not guilty to all charges against them.

“That is correct, your honor,” said Casada, after attorney Jonathan Farmer said his client was “not guilty on all counts.”

“Yes, your honor,” Cothren said after his attorney Cynthia Sherwood said “not guilty” in response to Magistrate Alistair Newman’s questions. Both men were released after agreeing to standard conditions that included not speaking with witnesses or victims and restrictions on travel.

The court appearance was an unusual turn of events for Casada, a Republican who ascended to become one of Tennessee politics’ most prominent figures. He was elected to the Tennessee House in 2001 to represent Williamson County, and he became Speaker of the House in 2019. But his reign was cut short by a no-confidence vote after racist and sexist texts were discovered from his then-former chief of staff, Cade Cothren — who is now Casada’s codefendant.

Casada is still a state legislator. It’s unclear whether he’ll keep his seat after the indictments.

The charges derived from a plot to push politicians into doing business with Phoenix Solutions, a consultancy firm owned by Casada, who was then the powerful Speaker of the House- — profited from and Cothren secretly operated. They told lawmakers the firm was run by an experienced political consultant named “Matthew Phoenix,” who does not exist.

Lawmakers’ constituent mailing is paid from state funds that allocate $3,000 annually for each member.

The 28-page indictment contained text message transcripts between Casada and Cothren:

“I think this is starting off well I’m pleased,” a text from Casada to Cothren in December 2019 said.  The text was sent about a month after Cothren set Phoenix Solutions.

Cothren agreed, but followed up with a text that said “we just have to make sure no one knows it’s me involved.”

Cade Cothren, former chief of staff to ex-House Speaker Glen Casada, leaving the federal courthouse in Nashville following his arraignment on conspiracy charges. (John Partipilo)
Cade Cothren, former chief of staff to ex-House Speaker Glen Casada, leaving the federal courthouse in Nashville following his arraignment on conspiracy charges

Later, Casada texted, “We can discuss on the 30th, but since the caucus has refused to [sic] spend money on member firms and we don’t want anyone knowing your [sic] Phoenix, how do we go around that to doing [caucus] mail[?]”

“No one needs to know who the corporation is,” Cothren said.

Former Rep. Robin Smith, a Hixson Republican and former state party chair, pled guilty in connection with the conspiracy in March, the day after she resigned from office. Her plea was contingent on her agreeing to cooperate.

“I want to fully cooperate as a witness with the federal government and do whatever I can to assist the authorities in this respect,” she stated at the time.