Grand Jury Indicts Tennessee State Senator on Theft Charges

“Robinson used the school’s funds to buy a Louis Vuitton handbag…”

(Associated Press) A Tennessee state senator was indicted Thursday on dozens of counts of stealing more than $600,000 in federal funds received by a health care school she directed and using the money to pay for personal items and expenses.

A federal grand jury in Memphis handed down the indictment against Democratic state Sen. Katrina Robinson, one day after the U.S. attorney’s office unsealed a criminal complaint alleging she used grant money earmarked for health care worker training to pay for her wedding and honeymoon, home improvements, a Jeep Renegade for her daughter, her children’s snow cone business, a campaign event, legal fees for her divorce, and other things.

The indictment includes 24 counts of theft and embezzlement involving government programs, and 24 counts of wire fraud, U.S. attorney Michael Dunavant said in a statement.

Robinson, a Democrat elected to the General Assembly in 2018 from a Memphis district, is the director of The Healthcare Institute, which provides training for health care industry jobs, prosecutors said.

The Memphis-based school received more than $2.2 million in federal grants from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The FBI said Robinson took $600,000 from the school’s operating account.

During a news conference Wednesday, Robinson’s attorney Janika White said Robinson would be vindicated. Robinson said she will continue serving her district in the Senate “with the same integrity, the same passion that I’ve demonstrated since you’ve elected me to this office.”

Lt. Governor Randy McNally will be asking the Senate Ethics Committee to look into the “serious criminal charges,” spokesman Adam Kleinheider said in an email.

If convicted, Robinson faces a possible sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison. Robinson would be up for re-election in 2022.

From 2015 through 2019, Robinson stole more than $600,000 and used it to pay for her wedding and honeymoon, a 2016 Jeep Renegade for her daughter, travel and entertainment for her family, and an event for her state Senate campaign, prosecutors said.

She also used the money to pay for legal fees for her divorce, home improvements and a snow cone business operated by her children, prosecutors said.

In a statement, the Senate Democratic Caucus said Robinson’s work in the state Legislature “is not in question” and she “deserves the presumption of innocence and due process.”

According to its website, The Healthcare Institute was founded in January 2015. Its certified nursing assistant program was introduced that July.

The school received a grant from the Health and Human Services Department for a certified nursing assistant program focused on geriatric populations and educational programs. The school also includes phlebotomy and electrocardiographic technician instruction.

An FBI affidavit alleges the federal funds were deposited into the school’s bank account for its operations. The funds were then “commingled indiscriminately with personal expenditure for the benefit of Robinson and her immediate family,” FBI special agent Matthew Pruitt wrote.

The FBI said the department received a complaint from someone who claimed Robinson used the school’s funds to buy a Louis Vuitton handbag for $550.

Robinson also spent thousands on credit card payments, hair and beauty supplies, and improvements to her body aesthetics business and her house, including a wrought iron front door valued at more than $5,000, the FBI said.

She also spent more than $4,700 on makeup, video services and a party for her wedding, and $5,000 on a trip to Jamaica, the FBI said.

Over a four-year period, Robinson paid herself $169,134 more than she was allowed to under salary amounts permitted by the federal grant, the affidavit said.