A federal grand jury in Nashville, Tennessee, returned an indictment Friday charging Tennessee State Senator Brian Kelsey and a Nashville social club owner with violating campaign finance laws as part of an alleged scheme to benefit Kelsey’s 2016 campaign for U.S. Congress.
According to court documents, Kelsey, 43, of Germantown, and Joshua Smith, 44, of Nashville, conspired to and did secretly and unlawfully funnel what is commonly referred to as “soft money” from Kelsey’s Tennessee State Senate campaign committee to his authorized federal campaign committee. Kelsey and others also caused a national political organization to make illegal, excessive contributions to Kelsey’s federal campaign committee by secretly coordinating with the organization on advertisements supporting Kelsey’s federal candidacy and to cause false reports of contributions and expenditures to be filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC).
The indictment alleges that Kelsey, Smith, and others orchestrated the concealed movement of $91,000 to a national political organization for the purpose of funding advertisements that urged voters to support Kelsey in the August 2016 primary election, and that the conspirators caused the political organization to make $80,000 worth of contributions to Kelsey’s federal campaign committee in the form of coordinated expenditures.
Kelsey and Smith are charged with conspiracy to defraud the FEC, illegally transferring “soft money” as a federal candidate and his agent, and illegally transferring “soft money” as a state officeholder and his agent. Kelsey is also charged with making excessive contributions to a federal campaign and accepting excessive contributions. The defendants are scheduled to make their initial court appearances on Nov. 5 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffery S. Frensley of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee. If convicted, they face 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.
Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and Acting U.S. Attorneys Mary Jane Stewart for the Middle District of Tennessee and Joseph C. Murphy Jr. for the Western District of Tennessee made the announcement.
The FBI is investigating the case.
Trial Attorney John Taddei of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Amanda Klopf of the Middle District of Tennessee and David Pritchard of Western District of Tennessee are prosecuting the case.
An indictment is merely an allegation, and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.