UPDATE: Tennessee House Speaker secretly bought $600,000 home in Nashville
Tennessee Speaker Cameron Sexton (R) secretly bought a home in Nashville for nearly $600,000 in September 2021 through an anonymous trust, Popular Information has learned. The revelation raises serious new questions about whether Sexton can legally represent Crossville, which is nearly two hours from Nashville. If Sexton is not a "qualified voter" in Crossville, he is ineligible to represent Crossville under Article II, Section 5a of the Tennessee Constitution.
Sexton's home is in a brand new development in West Nashville. It is over 2,600 square feet with four bedrooms and three and a half baths. It was marketed as a "spacious luxury residence" with "wide open spaces for entertaining, a cozy fireplace and multiple outdoor living spaces."
Sexton owned a similarly well-appointed home in Crossville, but sold it in 2020 and purchased a small two-bedroom condo in a retirement community. Sexton's Nashville home is well over twice as big and more than three times as expensive as his Crossville condo.
Sexton went to considerable lengths to obscure his purchase of his home in Nashville. He established an anonymous trust, the Beccani Trust, to buy the property. Cameron Sexton's name does not appear anywhere on the documents memorializing the sale and the mortgage. A financial advisor based in Utah, Bret Bryce, was appointed trustee and signed most of the documents.
But Sexton's wife, Lacey Sexton, signed the warranty deed for the property as the "affiant."
Lacey Sexton's name is not printed on the document and her signature is difficult to read. But when running for reelection in 2022, Cameron Sexton was required to submit 25 signatures from voters in his district. The first signature on the nominating petition was from Lacey Sexton. And her signature clearly matches the one on the deed to the Nashville property.
Other evidence linking the Sextons to this purchase is even more definitive. The lender who facilitated the sale for the Becanni Trust is the Crossville branch of One Bank of Tennessee. That is the small bank where Cameron Sexton "works in Business Development" and serves on the board of directors. The deeds for Sexton's Crossville condo and the Nashville property are secured by the same promissory note — the lender (One Bank), date (September 23, 2021), and amount ($547,191) are identical.
In Cameron Sexton's 2022 nominating petition, the document he files to run for reelection, he affirms "under the penalty" of perjury that he meets the qualifications to run as a representative of Crossville, known as District 25. Under the state constitution, that requires being a "qualified voter" in District 25. Under Tennessee law, to be a qualified voter in a district, you must live in the district.
Earlier this week, Popular Information reported that Sexton lives year-round in Nashville. In response, Sexton told Tennessee reporter Phil Williams that "it's easier to have his family" in Nashville due to his duties as Speaker. Sexton cited a provision of Tennessee residency law which states that "a person does not lose residence if, with the definite intention of returning, the person leaves home ... for temporary purposes, even if of one or more years duration." Sexton's purchase of a large home in Nashville undercuts this argument. The purchase is not consistent with a "temporary" move nor does it suggest Sexton has any "intention of returning" to Crossville.
Moreover, Tennessee residency law also states that "the place where a married person's spouse and family have their habitation is presumed to be the person's place of residence." The only specified way to overcome this presumption is by proving you live in a different home than your spouse. For Sexton, this is not the case.
John Spragens, a Tennessee attorney with experience litigating residency challenges for political candidates, told Popular Information that this provision of the law was critical. "Like any Tennessean, Speaker Sexton is presumed to reside where his spouse and family live," Spragens said. "If he isn’t a legal resident of Davidson County, he should explain why he sold his house in Crossville, bought a $600,000 house in Nashville through a trust, and apparently lives [in Nashville] year-round."
Sexton's office did not respond to a request for comment.
How Sexton charges taxpayers for fake commute
During the legislative session, members of the Tennessee legislature receive a per diem to cover "meals and incidentals equal to the allowance granted federal employees for such expenses in the Nashville area." In 2022, that was around $79 per day. But members who live more than 50 miles outside of Nashville are entitled to a much larger per diem, $313 in 2022, to cover the cost of lodging in Nashville. Sexton has taken the larger per diem, which is pegged to the cost of a hotel room in Nashville. On the forms, Sexton claims a roundtrip commute of 236 miles.
These per diems are also available when the legislature is out of session if a member has to travel to Nashville to conduct official business. Sexton makes extensive use of that privilege, consistently charging taxpayers the larger amount.
Since 2021, Sexton has charged Tennessee taxpayers $92,071 in per diem expenses.
Most of the charges were based on the idea that Sexton is required to commute from Crossville and find lodging when he is doing official business in Nashville. But Sexton's home is located in District 56, just six miles from the state capitol. The representative for District 56, Bob Freeman (D), has collected just $10,885 in per diems since 2021.