The Center Square
Tennessee state Sen. Katrina Robinson, D-Memphis, has been charged with using more than $600,000 in federal grants for personal expenses, including for her wedding and honeymoon, legal fees for her divorce, and a campaign event, federal prosecutors say.
A criminal complaint with charges of theft and embezzlement involving government programs and wire fraud was unsealed Wednesday by D. Michael Dunavant, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee.
Robinson is the owner of The Healthcare Institute, a for-profit nursing school in Memphis founded in 2015. According to the complaint, The Healthcare Institute received more than $2.2 million in federal grants between 2015 and 2019, of which Robinson allegedly used $600,000 to make purchases for personal use.
According to the complaint, purchases Robinson made with federal grant funds include expenses for her wedding and honeymoon and, later, legal fees for her divorce; more than $16,500 on electronics; payments for clothing and beauty products; improvements to her personal residence, including home theater equipment and an iron entry door valued above $5,500; a 2016 Jeep Renegade for her daughter; $54,000 to a personal IRA; and payments on personal loans and credit cards.
The complaint lists inappropriate payments totaling more than $70,000 for construction, remodeling, utilities, and rent for a body sculpting business called Celebrity Body Studio, also owned by Robinson.
Robinson is also accused of paying herself nearly $170,000 beyond what was approved in the grant.
Robinson responded to the charges in an appearance in Memphis on Wednesday afternoon.
“It is believed that if I were not in the position that I’m in, that if I did not champion the voices, the views, and the faces that I represent, that I would not be in this moment right now with you today,” Robinson said. “For that reason, I want to reassure all of my constituents … that I am committed to continuing to serve with the same integrity, the same passion that I have demonstrated since you elected me to this office.”
Robinson was elected to office in 2018 after successfully challenging the late Sen. Reginald Tate. She would be up for re-election in 2022.
“Sometimes we criminalize activity that may not have any criminal intent,” Robinson’s attorney Janika White said at a news conference Wednesday evening, stressing that the matter had not yet been heard by a grand jury, nor has an indictment been issued.
If convicted, Robinson could face up to 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a $250,000 fine. A date has not yet been determined for a federal grand jury to hear the case to consider an indictment.
A spokesman for Lt. Gov. Randy McNally said that due to the seriousness of the charges, the lieutenant governor plans to ask the Senate Ethics Committee to look into the matter.
The Senate Democratic Caucus said that Robinson’s work in the legislature on behalf of her constituents is not in question.
“Just like every other American, Sen. Robinson deserves the presumption of innocence and due process under the law,” the Senate Democratic Caucus said in a statement. “Her case should be resolved by a court of law, not by the court of public opinion.”