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Tennessee state senator expelled from office following conviction

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The Tennessee State Senate on Wednesday voted to impeach a female senator over her conviction on federal wire fraud charges, the first time the chamber has removed a female senator since at least the Civil War.

Senator Katrina Robinson, 41, who was convicted of wire fraud involving federal grants, was removed from the legislature after a 27-5 vote. The count followed party lines, with 27 Republicans voting for the expulsion and five Democrats voting against, and split over arguments over whether the Senate should continue to let Ms Robinson’s trial proceed. A Democrat was absent for the vote, said Eddie Weeks, the legislative librarian.

“While the ejection of a senator for the first time in history was not something we wanted to see, it was necessary action,” Senate President and Republican Randy McNally said in a statement. communicated after the vote.

Ms Robinson has always denied any wrongdoing, said Brandon Puttbrese, a spokesperson. In an interview on Wednesday, Ms Robinson, who is black, denounced the vote, calling it racist.

“I think today’s vote was an attack on black voting, black political power,” she said. “I think it’s misogynistic. I think it was racist.”

Ahead of the vote, Sen. Sara Kyle, a Democrat, urged lawmakers to vote against the eviction and “let the legal process unfold.”

Mr McNally, who is also Tennessee’s lieutenant governor, said in his statement that lawmakers had given Ms Robinson time to pursue legal motions in court and had given her “full consideration and due process”, but that his actions and refusal to step down made the vote “inevitable”.

Ms. Robinson, a registered nurse and founder of the Healthcare Institute, a for-profit college, was elected in 2018 to represent Shelby County’s 33rd District.

She was accused in 2020 of stealing more than $600,000 in federal grants and using them to pay for campaign events and personal expenses, including her wedding, honeymoon and subsequent divorce, the reports said. federal prosecutors in a complaint at the time.

The complaint says the Institute of Health received more than $2.2 million in federal grants, from 2015 to 2019, on the condition that the money be used to train nursing assistants to care for geriatric patients and provide scholarships. of study as needed for the program.

An investigation into the funds began in 2016 after an anonymous complaint to the Department of Health and Human Services accused Ms Robinson of using $550 of the grant to buy a Louis Vuitton handbag, according to the affidavit.

A judge acquitted Ms Robinson of 15 counts against her and a jury last year found her guilty of four counts of wire fraud, involving around $3,400. Last month, a judge acquitted Ms Robinson of two such charges.

His next court hearing will be in March, according to his spokesperson.

A 2019 advisory issued by Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery III said the state constitution gives the Senate and House of Representatives the power to expel a member for “disorderly behavior.”

Mr. Weeks, the Legislative Librarian, said in an email that there had been two failed or withdrawn attempts to expel senators in the late 19th century: In 1890 there was a motion, eventually withdrawn, to expel Senator Edward Frazier Mynatt; and in 1882 there was a resolution to remove Senator William Kindred Barrett, which was eventually censured and reprimanded.

But Mr. Weeks said the Tennessee State Senate has not expelled a lawmaker since at least the Civil War.

The most recent impeachment of a state legislator was in 2016, when a state representative was accused of sexual misconduct and expelled from the Tennessee House of Representatives in a special session.