Case against Senator Katrina Robinson is a problem – Tennessee Lookout


In Memphis on Thursday, Federal Judge Sheryl Lipman debated with prosecutors the merits of the federal government fraud case against State Senator Katrina Robinson.

Lipman dismissed the jury immediately after prosecutors finished their case. Robinson’s lawyers have asked the judge to dismiss all charges, citing lack of evidence and fundamental flaws in the prosecution’s financial analysis.

The Democratic senator faces 17 counts of embezzlement and fraud alleging that she embezzled money from federal grants to her company, The Health Institute, which provides post-secondary nursing education.

The only testimony on Thursday came from Jonathan Nyaku, a CPA hired by Robinson in 2015 to oversee the finances of THI. Nyaku and his firm, Memphis Consulting Group, reviewed THI’s finances from 2015 to 2019 on a monthly basis, kept their general ledger, and worked with Robinson to categorize income and expenses.

In a 2015 email, two months after THI first received government funds, Nyaku warned Robinson that “do-it-yourself accounting never, ever works” and that “running a federal grant can be a complex business “. Robinson hired him a day later, a commitment that continued throughout the duration of the grant.

Nyaku explained to the jury that THI segregates grant funds from its general operating account and properly manages expenses and income. Nyaku clarified the chain of custody of federal funds, explaining that government scholarships, once awarded to a student and claimed by THI, become business income. Once THI has paid its expenses, the company’s income becomes profits, which the sole owner and shareholder of the company can spend as they see fit.

THI’s fuller picture of finances showed Robinson taking steps to properly record, categorize and report expenses, often relying on the oversight of accountants, and Thursday ended with Judge Sheryl Lipman remitting question the government’s case.

During the trial, most of the evidence provided by US lawyers focused on thousands of dollars in personal purchases made by Robinson, alleging that they came from public funds. Nyaku testified that none of these purchases were expensed to the grant accounts and that all were properly accounted for under the direct supervision of his company. Nyaku relied on Robinson’s full disclosure to complete each classification and communicated with her frequently on anything that needed clarification.

In cross-examination, the defense examined Nyaku through THI’s monthly statements. Lawrence Laurenzi, Robinson’s best lawyer, worked to show that personal purchases came from THI income, not grant funds.

THI’s books were subject to a 2019 audit required as part of the grant and performed for the federal government by an independent accounting firm.

THI’s fuller picture of finances showed that Robinson took steps to properly record, classify and report expenses, often relying on accountants’ oversight. The charges of embezzlement and fraud brought by the prosecution allege willful misrepresentation for the purpose of gaining federal government money or property.

In the absence of the jury, Lipman asked federal prosecutors to clarify how Robinson’s expenses, accounting and reporting amounted to embezzlement. “I don’t see how you can just point fingers: she spends a lot of money. It just doesn’t matter, ”Lipman said.

Nyaku described the accounting process in which the money started as a grant, paid scholarships, entered THI as income, and ended in profit, directly contradicting the government’s argument that the Money Robinson spent was governed by the grant guidelines. After nearly three hours of argument, the American lawyer Scott Smith admitted this blow to the prosecution. The state now argues that spending exceeded income in some months, causing THI to “spend” in grant funds. This argument hinges on a thorough understanding of the complex accounting principles Justice Lipman asked U.S. lawyers to clarify for the court.

Robinson’s attorney, Matthew Jehl, argued that embezzlement and fraud are crimes of intent and that the state has provided no evidence that Robinson knowingly or intentionally misrepresented herself or his business to earn money or property. When the state pointed out errors in the reports, Jehl argued that those reports were unrelated to funding and there is no evidence to suggest the errors were intentional.

Lipman appeared to be paying particular attention to dismissing the fraud charges. “I am lost in how this could be a ploy to defraud,” she said.

Lipman asked lawyers for both sides to meet again on Friday at 3 p.m., when she asked the prosecution to clarify its financial analysis for the court. Still not convinced there is enough evidence to move forward, Lipman plans to convene the jury again on Monday.

“I have to convince myself that this is a case that should go to the jury. I need to hear more, ”Lipman said just before the court adjourned.


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