MEMPHIS, Tenn. — State Sen. Katrina Robinson has been federally charged with theft and embezzlement involving government programs, and wire fraud.
Prosecutors with U.S. Attorney Michael Dunavant’s office said that a vocational school Robinson founded, The Healthcare Institute, received more than $2.2 million in federal grants between 2015 and 2019.
Robinson (D-Memphis) is accused of stealing $600,000 from the school and compensating herself more than the grant allowed.
Some of the things investigators say she used the grant money for included: a Jeep for her daughter; clothing, accessories, expenses related to her wedding and honeymoon and later, legal fees for her divorce; payments on her personal debts, including credit cards, store charge cards, student loans and other personal loans; travel and entertainment; improvements to her personal residence; expenses related to a body aesthetics business she owned and a snow cone business operated by her kids; and a state senate campaign.
The criminal complaint will be presented to a federal grand jury at a later date to consider an indictment.
If convicted, Robinson faces a possible sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, three years
supervised release, and a $250,000 fine, prosecutors said. There is no parole in the federal system.
In a public statement made from the courthouse steps Wednesday evening, Robinson said she is committed to serving her constituents in Memphis, her students at The Healthcare Institute and her fellow nurses. She asked for prayers and support.
“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.
Her attorney said the investigation into Robinson began in February. Since that time, Robinson has traveled from New York to Texas, working as a registered nurse in the fight against the COVID pandemic while continuing to serve as a state lawmaker.
“Sometimes we criminalize activity that may not have any criminal intent,” attorney Janika White said. “Senator Robinson, she’s human. She’s still human.”
Neither Robinson nor her attorney specifically said anything about her being innocent of the charges.
Sen. Robinson refused to take questions from the media Wednesday, but said she would keep fighting for the people she represents.
“I am committed to continuing to serve with the same integrity, the same passion that I have demonstrated since you have elected me to his office,” she said.
The Senate Democratic Caucus released a statement Wednesday:
“It’s clear that Sen. Robinson’s work in the state legislature on behalf of her constituents is not in question here today. Just like every other American, Sen. Robinson deserves the presumption of innocence and due process under the law. Her case should be resolved by a court of law, not by the court of public opinion.”
On Tuesday, agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation were sent to Robinson’s home, the agency confirmed. They would not say why they were there, but did say they did not conduct a search warrant.
Several months ago, agents searched Robinson’s southeast Shelby County home. Agents were also seen removing boxes from The Healthcare Institute, a vocational nursing school which Robinson founded with a $1.6 million federal grant in 2015.
Robinson, a Democrat representing southeast Memphis and Shelby County, won the District 33 seat in the Tennessee State Senate in 2018.