josh smith

Kelsey, who angrily denied charges, to change plea in federal case

State Sen. Brian Kelsey denies wrongdoing in a video conference call following his indictment on Oct. 25, 2021. (Image: screengrab from call)

State Sen. Brian Kelsey, a Germantown Republican who blamed a political witch hunt for a federal indictment on campaign finance charges, now plans to change his not-guilty plea in the case.

Kelsey’s attorneys made the motion for a hearing on the matter on Thursday. The lawmaker’s codefendant, Nashville club owner Josh Smith, pleaded guilty last week.

Kelsey is accused of illegally transferring money from his state campaign account to Smith’s PAC and then directing the money to be redirected to a national group to spend on his 2016 congressional bid. Kelsey finished fourth in that contest.

U.S. District Judge Waverly Crenshaw has yet to schedule Kelsey’s change-of-plea hearing.

Kelsey codefendant Smith to plead guilty

Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), right, attends a Senate Education Committee meeting in Nashville on April 16, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Josh Smith, the proprietor of The Standard social club in Nashville, has struck an agreement with federal prosecutors to plead guilty to one charge of funneling soft money to state Sen. Brian Kelsey’s unsuccessful congressional bid in 2016. Kelsey, a Germantown Republican, remains a defendant on all five counts.

Smith’s attorneys say he plans to plead guilty to Count Two of the indictment, which alleges Smith had “solicited, received, directed, transferred, and spent” more than $25,000 while acting as an agent for Kelsey’s campaign for the GOP nomination in the 8th District in 2016.

According to the indictment, Kelsey funneled money from his state campaign account through political action committees controlled by Smith and Andy Miller Jr. to the American Conservative Union (ACU), which then spent $80,000 on radio ads supporting his bid for federal office. It was all for naught, as Kelsey finished a distant fourth in the Republican primary.

Kelsey has pleaded not guilty and denied any wrongdoing. He isn’t seeking re-election this year.

The trial is scheduled for January.


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