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Former Tennessee State Senator Brian Kelsey pleaded guilty to two federal charges late on Tuesday. The U.S. Department of Justice announced that the former lawmaker is accused of violating federal campaign finance laws.
“Kelsey pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the FEC and aiding and abetting the acceptance of excessive contributions on behalf of a federal campaign. He is scheduled to be sentenced on June 9, 2023, and faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison for each count. The former senator appeared in court Tuesday for a change of plea hearing in his federal campaign finance case,” MSN reported.
“Last month, Kelsey filed a motion to have the change of plea hearing almost one year after he and Nashville social club owner Joshua Smith were indicted by a federal grand jury as part of an alleged campaign finance scheme. Both men are accused of violating election rules by funneling money from a state campaign to a federal campaign while Kelsey made a bid for congress in 2016,” the outlet added.
He faces up to five years in federal prison on each count. Kelsey initially pleaded not guilty to multiple charges in November 2021, calling the charges against him a “political witch hunt.”
The DOJ said in a press release:
According to court documents, Kelsey, 44, of Germantown, admitted that he conspired to, and did, secretly and unlawfully funnel money from multiple sources, including his own Tennessee State Senate campaign committee, to his authorized federal campaign committee. Kelsey, who was a practicing attorney, and his co-conspirators, including Joshua Smith, also caused a national political organization to make illegal and excessive contributions to Kelsey’s federal campaign committee by secretly coordinating with the organization on advertisements supporting Kelsey’s federal candidacy, which caused false reports of contributions and expenditures to be filed with the FEC.
Kelsey and his co-conspirators orchestrated the concealed movement of $91,000 – $66,000 of which came from Kelsey’s State Senate campaign committee, and $25,000 of which came from a nonprofit corporation that publicly advocated on legal justice issues – to a national political organization for the purpose of funding advertisements that urged voters to support Kelsey in the August 2016 primary election. Kelsey and his co-conspirators also caused the political organization to make $80,000 worth of contributions to Kelsey’s federal campaign committee in the form of coordinated expenditures.
According to court documents, Kelsey stated that he conspired to and did illegally funnel money from several sources, including his own Tennessee State campaign committee.
— Action News 5 (@WMCActionNews5) November 22, 2022
“Kelsey pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the FEC and aiding and abetting the acceptance of excessive contributions on behalf of a federal campaign. He is scheduled to be sentenced on June 9, 2023, and faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison on each count. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors,” the DOJ press release stated.
“Joshua Smith pleaded guilty last month to aiding and abetting the solicitation, receipt, direction, transfer, and spending of soft money in connection with a federal election. He is awaiting sentencing. Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Mark H. Wildasin for the Middle District of Tennessee, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Tennessee, and Special Agent in Charge Douglas Korneski of the FBI Memphis Field Office made the announcement,” the press release added.
In August, the FBI arrested a Tennessee Republican lawmaker and his former chief of staff after being charged with an alleged bribery and kickback scheme.
Former Tennessee state Rep. Glen Casada and his former Chief of Staff Cade Cothren were indicted on Monday by a federal grand jury for allegedly engaging in a fake mailing program to constituents designed to enrich themselves.
“The 20-count indictment, unsealed this morning, also charges Casada and Cothren with using a fictitious name to carry out a fraud; theft concerning programs receiving federal funds; eight counts of money laundering; six counts of honest services wire fraud; and two counts of bribery and kickbacks,” the Department of Justice said in a press release.