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Former Tennessee senator Brian Kelsey files motion to withdraw guilty plea

If Kelsey's motion to change his plea is not approved by the judge, the former senator could face up to five years on each count.
Credit: AP
Former Republican state Sen. Brian Kelsey, left, leaves federal court Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

TENNESSEE, USA — The former Tennessee state senator who pleaded guilty in November to violating federal campaign finance laws has now filed a motion to withdraw this guilty plea. 

The motion comes days before senator Brian Kelsey is scheduled to receive sentencing in federal court.

Through court filings, the senator cites an "unsure heart and a confused mind" as what lead to him accepting a plea agreement within a 48-hour deadline.

In December, the Tennessee Supreme Court suspended Kelsey's law license at the request of the Board of Professional Responsibility, pending further orders by the court. The state Supreme Court cited its own rules requiring the suspension because of Kelsey's guilty plea.

Specifically, the Germantown native 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.  

Now, Kelsey's attorney David Warrington wrote in the motion that "Kelsey was given a mere 48 hours to make a life altering decision — a decision made without fully understanding ancillary consequences that have come to light only after he entered his plea."

Kelsey's motion references the failing health of his late father as well as the birth of twins last year as "an incredibly stressful and confusing time." 

“Brian Kelsey was given less than 48 hours to make a decision on his plea agreement at a time when he was contending with his father on his death bed due to pancreatic cancer and newborn twins,” the documents explain. “Under these circumstances, he was in a confused state mentally and unable to fully consider the ramifications of his plea agreement.”

Prosecutors say that Kelsey and co-defendant Joshua Smith conspired to move tens of thousands of dollars from a state Senate campaign account to a notional political organization. 

They say that organization then bought political advertising for Kelsey's congressional campaign, making another $80,000 worth of contributions to the campaign.  

Smith pleaded guilty to one federal charge in October and Kelsey's original plea took place a few weeks later. If Kelsey's motion to change his plea is not approved by the judge, the former senator could face up to five years on each count. 

Kelsey also mentioned in his court filings that he chose not to seek reelection in the Tennessee senate last year in order to avoid negative campaigning for his family.

Kelsey told the court that he was also forced to resign from the Liberty Justice Center, has lost his health insurance and had a bank close his credit card account — all due to the guilty plea.

"No one ever informed me that pleading guilty... would cause me to lose the ability to utilize the private banking system in the United States," Kelsey said in the motion.

The bank has not responded to Kelsey's motion officially as of press time. Still, federal prosecutors asked the judge to delay co-defendant Smith's sentencing date from March 28 to a time after Kelsey's motion is ruled on.

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