NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A former Tennessee state senator accused of violating federal campaign finance laws is seeking to withdraw his guilty plea, arguing that he initially did so out of “an unsure heart and a confused mind.”
Brian Kelsey pleaded guilty before a federal judge in November in a case involving a failed campaign for Congress in 2016. Before that, Kelsey had 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 charge under an agreement that required him to “fully and sincerely cooperate” 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 charge. However, 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 state.
“Brian Kelsey was given less than 48 hours to make a decision on his plea agreement at a time when he was dealing with his father on his deathbed due to pancreatic cancer and newborn twins,” the documents explain. . “Under these circumstances, he was in a confused state of mind and unable to fully consider the ramifications of his plea agreement. In short, he had an insecure heart and a confused mind and he should be allowed to withdraw his statement.”
The motion then says that Kelsey was unaware of the consequences of pleading guilty because she had no criminal record. Those consequences have included his bank cutting off his credit card and the suspension of his law license.
After Kelsey filed her motion on Friday, US prosecutors requested two weeks to respond directly and also asked the court to proceed with sentencing hearings scheduled for later this year.
In October 2021, a federal grand jury in Nashville indicted Kelsey and Smith, owner of The Standard club, on multiple 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 organization that advocated for justice issues. legal—to a national political organization to finance ads urging support for 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 ads with the nonprofit, and that they caused the organization to file false reports with the Federal Election Commission.
Kelsey, a 44-year-old lawyer from Germantown, was first elected to the General Assembly in 2004 as a state representative. She was later elected to the state senate in 2009.