Former Tennessee state Sen. Brian Kelsey exits the federal courthouse in Nashville after pleading guilty on two federal counts on Nov. 22, 2022. (Photo: John Partipilo)
Former state Sen. Brian Kelsey’s sentencing hearing on a federal campaign finance conviction is being shifted ahead of co-conspirator Joshua Smith’s hearing on March 28.
At the request of prosecutors, Kelsey’s hearing was flipped to 1 p.m. and Smith’s was moved to 3:30 p.m. The move enables federal attorneys to call Smith to the stand to testify against Kelsey if necessary in what could be the more contentious of the two sentencing hearings.
In January 2022, Kelsey took to the Senate floor to call the charges a political “witch hunt.” Despite his guilty plea, he has not shown much contrition.
The Germantown attorney, the father of three children, two of them twins, has already received support from friends and political colleagues who urged U.S. District Court Judge Waverly Crenshaw to show him leniency.
Kelsey pleaded guilty in November 2022 to two counts of violating federal campaign finance laws in a scheme to bolster his failed 2016 congressional campaign. The ex-senator funneled more than $90,000 from his state account to his congressional campaign, illicitly using “soft money” not governed by federal laws.
The guilty pleas each could net him five years in prison, three years of probation and a $250,000 fine.
Smith, proprietor of The Standard Club, a downtown Nashville restaurant that catered to Republican lawmakers, helped filter the money through the restaurant’s political action committee. It eventually went to the American Conservative Union, which bought digital/radio ads to support Kelsey’s candidacy.
Smith made a plea deal with federal prosecutors in early November, which led to Kelsey’s subsequent plea. Otherwise, they were to go to trial in January.
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