Ousted Tennessee senator sentenced to probation for fraud

MEMPHIS, Tennessee — A former Tennessee state senator kicked out of office after being convicted of using federal grant money for wedding expenses instead of the nursing school she runs has was sentenced on Friday to one year of probation but not prison.

Katrina Robinson had been sentenced to four to 10 months in prison under sentencing guidelines after being found guilty in September of two counts of wire fraud in federal court in Memphis. But U.S. District Judge Sheryl H. Lipman strayed from the guidelines at sentencing, saying Robinson had already suffered a lot and the community of Memphis would not benefit from a prison sentence for the Nursing school administrator, community leader and mother of two children.

Robinson, a Democrat, was elected to represent a Memphis district in the state Senate in 2018. But Robinson, who is black, was removed from office by the Republican-led Senate in a session on 2 February, in a vote cast along party lines. .

The criminal case against Robinson involved a federal grant for a school for health care workers that she started running before being elected to public office.

In July 2020, prosecutors charged Robinson with paying personal expenses on more than $600,000 in federal grants awarded to The Healthcare Institute, which trains nurses and focuses on helping low-income minority students. income. She was ultimately convicted on just two of 20 counts, involving around $3,400 in wedding expenses in 2016.

Before the 27-5 vote to remove her from the Senate, Robinson argued that she had been unfairly judged by the majority white body. She called it a “procedural lynching”, drawing cheers of support that the Republican president swallowed. Some of his supporters in the gallery were in tears and others were in solidarity.

It was the first time the chamber had fired a senator since at least the Civil War.

On Friday, prosecutor Christopher Cotten asked the judge to sentence Robinson to 10 months in prison, saying she had shown “an abject disregard to accept responsibility for her actions” and had unfairly accused racism of being responsible for the charges.

During the sentencing hearing, Robinson told the judge that she understood the importance of her case and acknowledged that she was not watching things “closely”.

Lipman, the judge, said she read 57 letters of support for Robinson. Former students and current staff have described her as a wonderful mother, a caring educator, an inspiring community leader and a dedicated nurse. Robinson traveled outside of Tennessee during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic to help treat sick patients in hospitals.

However, Lipman also chastised Robinson for blaming the charges on “hot issues” such as race, despite the judge acknowledging previous instances of racial injustice in the justice system. Lipman criticized Robinson’s sloppy record keeping and added that Robinson failed to honor the taxpayer-funded federal grant by not giving it due consideration.

The judge gave advice to Robinson.

“Someone trying to do everything has to edit and has to edit desperately,” Lipman said.

Lipman also ruled Friday that Robinson committed perjury during her trial when she defended an email stating that the money she used for her wedding was for a community patient education event and should be covered by a grant.

After the hearing, Robinson told reporters that she felt the probation was appropriate and that she planned to continue working in the community.

“Most of the things I’ve talked about in regards to race have to do with my being kicked out of the Senate first and foremost, and just the general pattern from the beginning of time when black elected officials were able to serve — not necessarily that I don’t make him accept responsibility for this matter,” Robinson said.

While she manages to avoid prison, Robinson has already taken a heavy toll, both on her reputation and her finances, her attorney, Lawrence Laurenzi, said. Robinson struggled to get a checking account, her retirement account was seized by the federal government and she could lose her nursing license, the attorney said.

Laurenzi said he plans to appeal the conviction.

After Robinson was expelled from the Senate, the Shelby County Commission selected another black woman, Democratic State Rep. London Lamar, to replace her. The commissioners will choose Lamar’s replacement at State House.

ABC News

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