US prosecutors accuse ex-Tennessee lawmaker of delaying sentencing
Jul 27, 2023, 9:46 AM | Updated: 9:52 am
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Federal prosecutors on Thursday accused a former Tennessee state senator of intentionally delaying his sentencing after the Republican unsuccessfully attempted to withdraw his guilty plea to federal campaign finance laws.
Earlier this spring, Brian Kelsey announced that he pleaded guilty with an “unsure heart and confused mind” due to events in his personal life — his father had abruptly died in February, and he and his wife were caring for their twin sons born in September. He has since replaced his legal team and sought to prove that he was given bad legal advice.
Kelsey had entered a guilty plea before a federal judge in November in the case related to a failed 2016 congressional campaign. Kelsey had previously pleaded not guilty — often describing his case as a “political witch hunt.” But he changed his mind shortly after his co-defendant, Nashville social club owner Joshua Smith, pleaded guilty to one count under a deal that required him to “cooperate fully and truthfully” with federal authorities.
However, in May, U.S. District Judge Waverly Crenshaw denied Kelsey’s plea reversal and later ordered Kelsey and his new legal team to appear in person at the Nashville federal courthouse on Thursday to finalize when the sentencing hearing could be set.
A visibly impatient Crenshaw noted several times that Thursday was originally supposed to be Kelsey’s sentencing hearing but that the court was unable to do so because of the switch up in legal teams,
“I need some explanation on what happened,” Crenshaw said.
Alex Little, an attorney now representing Kelsey, responded that a “great deal of back and forth” had occurred with Kelsey’s former attorneys after Crenshaw’s May decision denying the withdrawal of the guilty plea.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Amanda Klopf compared switching up attorneys similar to “throwing a wrench in the gears again.”
“It does feel like a delay tactic at this point,” she said.
After going and back forth, Crenshaw set Aug. 11 as Kelsey’s new sentencing date.
In October 2021, a federal grand jury in Nashville indicted Kelsey and Smith, who owns The Standard club, on several counts each. The indictment 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 a nonprofit that advocated about legal justice issues — to a national political organization to fund advertisements urging support of Kelsey’s congressional campaign.
Prosecutors allege that Kelsey and others caused the national political organization to make illegal and excessive campaign contributions to Kelsey by coordinating with the nonprofit on advertisements, and that they caused the organization to file false reports to 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.