CfA Requests Criminal Investigation into Tennessee Speaker Cameron Sexton’s Per Diem Requests
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 26, 2023
Contact: Michael Clauw, email@example.com, 202.780.5750
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Campaign for Accountability (CfA) requested that the District Attorney General of the 20th Judicial District of Tennessee and the United States Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee investigate whether Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton violated any criminal laws by submitting numerous forms to the Office of Legislative Administration or by self-approving and submitting lodging per diem requests above the amounts to which he appears to have been entitled. CfA also requested that the IRS investigate Speaker Sexton for potential tax fraud if the speaker failed to declare the per diems as taxable income.
Recent media reports revealed that Speaker Sexton lives primarily in a home that he purchased in Nashville even though, for years, he has been collecting lodging per diem payments designated for legislators who live 50 miles or more from the state Capitol. CfA’s complaint details how Speaker Sexton’s actions may have violated multiple criminal laws, including felony theft, honest services wire fraud, and tax fraud.
CfA Executive Director Michelle Kuppersmith said, “Tennessee law makes clear that only those legislators who live more than 50 miles away from the Capitol are permitted to receive a lodging per diem. Speaker Sexton is not above the law and must be held accountable for any possible violations.”
Although Speaker Sexton represents the community of Crossville—approximately a two-hour drive from the state capitol in Nashville—in September 2021, he purchased a Nashville home. He appears to have gone to great lengths to hide his new Nashville residency, purchasing the house through the “Beccani Trust,” with only his wife’s one signature was on the deed. While Sexton still owns a smaller, additional property in a retirement community in his elected district, his youngest child is enrolled in a private Nashville-area school, and Sexton admitted to a reporter that it is “easier” to have his family in Nashville. Yet, according to CfA’s analysis, since moving to Nashville, Speaker Sexton has requested and obtained lodging per diems—reserved for legislators living 50 miles or more outside the Capitol—totaling approximately $79,954.
Under Tennessee law, “a person commits theft of property if, with intent to deprive the owner of property, the person knowingly obtains or exercises control over the property without the owner’s effective consent.” Based on the ledgers maintained by the Office of Legislative Administration, Speaker Sexton appears to have obtained property valued at approximately $79,954. If such payments were improper with the intent to deprive the citizens of Tennessee of that property without their consent, it is a Class B felony, punishable by eight to thirty years in prison and up to $25,000 in fines
CfA’s complaint also notes that if Sexton intentionally and falsely submitted forms representing that he was entitled to per diem expenses for a person living more than 50 miles away from the Capitol, he likely either received payments made through direct deposit into his bank account, or he received checks that he deposited into his account, potentially committing the federal crime of honest services wire fraud.
Additionally, because the House Ledgers show Sexton submitted his lodging per diem requests as non-taxable, he may have failed to report the per diems to the IRS as taxable wages. According to IRS guidance, lodging per diem payments can be excluded from an employee’s taxable income when the employee is performing services away from home, but Speaker Sexton resided just a few miles from the capitol meaning any failure to report the per diems as taxable wages may be fraudulent.
In 2018, the Davidson County District Attorney prosecuted then-Nashville Mayor Megan Barry for theft of property charges stemming from domestic and international travel expenses the mayor and her bodyguard, with whom she was having an affair, improperly charged to the city of Nashville. At the time, District Attorney Funk stated, “It’s the role of the district attorney to bring charges when crimes have been committed even if those crimes are committed by public officials.”
Ms. Kuppersmith continued, “On top of criminal and IRS investigations, the Tennessee legislature, which recently – and in record speed – expelled two legislators for protesting on the House floor, ought to just as quickly consider whether Speaker Sexton, as the highest official in the House, should be expelled for his apparent ethical lapses.”
Campaign for Accountability is a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog organization that uses research, litigation, and aggressive communications to expose misconduct and malfeasance in public life and hold those who act at the expense of the public good accountable for their actions.