Tennessee State Senator Charged With Embezzling $600,000 in Federal Funds

By - August 3, 2020
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A Tennessee state senator was charged last week with embezzling $600,000 in federal grant money and using it to pay for her wedding, honeymoon, divorce and other personal expenses.

Katrina Robinson, 39, faces federal charges of theft and embezzlement of government program funds and wire fraud, according to a federal criminal complaint filed in US District Court in Tennessee. She faces 48 counts, including 24 counts of theft and embezzlement, and 24 counts of wire fraud. Robinson could go to federal prison for up to 20 years if she is convicted on all charges.

The stolen money was intended to pay for a nurse training program at a school run by Robinson. But she siphoned the money off to add to her salary, fund her businesses, and pay personal expenses.

In addition to being a state senator, the Memphis Democrat is director of the Healthcare Institute, a for-profit university that offers training programs for licensed practical nursing, certified nursing assistants, and phlebotomists. Robinson is a registered nurse and founded the university in 2015.

The federal complaint states that the Healthcare Institute was given more than $2 million in federal grants from the Health Resources and Services Administration from 2015 to 2019. The school was given the grant under the condition that the money would be used to train nurse assistants to take care of geriatric patients and offer need-based scholarships for the school’s programs.

$500 Louis Vuitton Handbag Purchase Initiated Federal Investigation

The federal investigation into Robinson started in 20165 when a complaint to the Health and Human Services Department alleged that she used $500 of the money to buy a handbag.

Based upon her bank records, federal investigators discovered she gave herself a $25,000 bonus, paid herself more than her salary, and transferred $54,000 to a retirement fund. The stolen funds at this point amounted to $169,000 than she should have been paid under the terms of the grant.

These expenses needed to be approved by the Health Resources and Services Administration and were not. The administration would not have approved them, the complaint stated.

Investigators also found that grant money had been put into a separate bank account from which legitimate expenditures for the school’s operation were being comingled with personal expenses to benefit Robinson and her family.

Some of the items bought with grant money were a Jeep Renegade, clothing and beauty products, home furnishings, including a front door valued at $5000. She also bought equipment and supplies for her children’s snow cone business.

The embezzled funds also were used to pay for Robinson’s travel to Jamaica, pay off debt, and fund a State Senate campaign event.

The Health and Human Services Department started the investigation and was later followed by the FBI.

The US Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee stated that protection of federal grant programs and the US Treasury against theft, fraud, and abuse is a top priority of the federal government.

Robinson’s Lawyer Has Not Commented on Case

Robinson’s lawyer, Janika White, did not comment on the complaint but said the claim was not an indictment.,

She noted that Senator Robinson is strong and has been in public service to serve others. White said all she can do is stand on her record and let the facts come out and for her story to be told at the right time.

Her attorney said federal prosecutors were using a statute to charge her client that was too broad and overreaching and that she would be vindicated. White said Robinson is a nurse who had traveled outside the state to treat patients with COVID-19.

However, a local criminal defense attorney said the charges filed against Robinson were not a surprise. Claiborne Ferguson said you do not usually see the FBI filing several search warrants unless they are going to prosecute.

Ferguson said one defense she might have is that some of the payments she made, she needed to go back and have the grant amended. She might have thought that had been done. So, the intent has to be looked at when she took the money. Was she thinking she was entitled to the money or was she engaging in fraud? He added that most federal criminal cases reach a settlement before trial, and the accused almost always pleads guilty.

The case will be presented to the grand jury soon. If she is convicted, she faces up to 20 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine.