Former Tennessee lawmaker asks judge to drop guilty plea

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A former Tennessee state senator accused of violating federal campaign finance laws is seeking to withdraw his guilty plea, claiming he initially did so with an “insecure heart and a confused mind” .

Brian Kelsey entered a guilty plea before a federal judge in November in the case relating to a failed 2016 congressional campaign. Before that, Kelsey had previously pleaded not guilty – often describing his case as a “witch hunt politics” — but changed his mind shortly after his co-defendant, Nashville social club owner Joshua Smith, pleaded guilty to one count under an agreement that required him to “cooperate fully and sincerely” with federal authorities.

Kelsey pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the Federal Election Commission, as well as aiding and abetting the acceptance of excessive contributions on behalf of a federal campaign. He faces up to five years in prison for each count. Yet on Friday, Kelsey’s new legal team filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea and asked the court to dismiss his case.

“Although not the norm, it is permissible to withdraw a guilty plea and file a motion to dismiss,” the court documents said.

“Brian Kelsey was given less than 48 hours to reach a decision on his plea deal at a time when he was arguing with his father on his deathbed over pancreatic cancer and newborn twins,” the documents explain. . “Under these circumstances, he was mentally confused and unable to fully consider the consequences of his plea deal. In short, he had an uncertain heart and a confused mind and should be allowed to withdraw his request.

The motion then states that Kelsey was unaware of the consequences of pleading guilty because she had no criminal record. Such consequences have included his bank cutting his credit card and suspending his law license.

After Kelsey filed her motion on Friday, U.S. attorneys asked for two weeks to respond directly, while also asking the court to continue with sentencing hearings scheduled for later this year.

In October 2021, a federal grand jury in Nashville indicted Kelsey and Smith, owners of The Standard club, on several counts each. The prosecution alleged that Kelsey, Smith, and others violated campaign finance laws by illegally concealing the transfer of $91,000-$66,000 from Kelsey’s state Senate campaign committee and $25,000 from an organization not profit advocating for legal justice issues – to a national political organization to fund advertisements soliciting support for Kelsey’s congressional campaign.

Prosecutors say Kelsey and others tricked the national political organization into making illegal and excessive campaign contributions to Kelsey by coordinating with the nonprofit over the ads, and that they caused the organization to file false reports with the Federal Election Commission.

Kelsey, a 44-year-old attorney from Germantown, was first elected to the General Assembly in 2004 as a state representative. He was later elected to the state senate in 2009.

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