Former TN state senator pleads guilty to federal corruption charges

A one-time top Republican in the state of Tennessee pleaded guilty Tuesday to a pair of federal corruption charges, and as a result, now faces up to five years in prison for each count, as The Tennessean reports.

Former state Sen. Brian Kelsey was accused of engaging in a campaign finance scheme designed to further his bid to win a seat in Congress, an endeavor which was ultimately unsuccessful.

During an appearance in federal court in Nashville, Kelsey entered guilty pleas to a single count of conspiracy to defraud the federal government and one of aiding and abetting the acceptance of excessive campaign contributions, according to a press release from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Kelsey, 44, acknowledged in court that he “secretly and unlawfully” funneled money from several sources – one of which was his own state Senate campaign committee – to his federal campaign committee.

Specifically, Kelsey admitted to coordinating with a national political organization to make unlawful and excessive donations to his federal campaign committee, actions which resulted in false reports to be filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

Kelsey earlier pleaded not guilty to the charges and was on the path to a trial in January, but then in October, he sought a hearing to make a change in that status, a decision perhaps prompted by co-defendant Joshua Smith’s guilty plea in the case.

The disgraced politician know faces a maximum of five years in prison for each of the counts, with sentencing – at least for now – slated to occur in June, as The Tennessean noted.

When the charges against him were first issued, Kelsey – once considered a rising star in the GOP – declared himself the victim of a “political witch hunt,” adding, as the Memphis Commercial Appeal noted, that “the Biden administration is trying to take me out because I’m conservative and I’m the number one target of the Tennessee Democratic Party.”

Winning a seat in the Tennessee House of Representatives back in 2004, Kelsey prevailed in a special election for a state Senate seat and subsequently won a full term in 2010.

His indictment on the federal charges to which he has now pleaded guilty prompted Kelsey to announce in May that he did not plan to seek re-election, though he expressed his hope that his legal troubles would not signal the end of his political career.

“Lord willing, I hope that you will give me the opportunity to run for elected office in Tennessee again in the coming years,” Kelsey said at the time.

However, by pleading guilty last week, Kelsey has subjected himself to the consequences of a Tennessee statutory prohibition against felons holding public office, though felonies are not disqualifying when it comes to federal office. With his state law license likely also now in jeopardy of revocation, the entire series of events represents a stunning fall from grace for this once-promising leader.