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By Sarah May on
 June 9, 2023

Judge denies former TN state senator's bid to withdraw guilty plea in corruption case

In the latest development in what has been the shocking downfall of a onetime rising star in Tennessee Republican politics, a federal judge ruled that former State Sen. Brian Kelsey will not be permitted to withdraw a guilty plea he entered last year to avoid a corruption trial, as The Tennessean reports.

Declaring his prior plea of guilty to a pair of campaign finance charges to have been a mistake, Kelsey unsuccessfully sought permission to change his position it the case and take the matter to trial.

The events leading up to the judge's decision began in November, when Kelsey pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to defraud the federal government and one of aiding and abetting the acceptance of funds beyond the federal limit of $25,000.

Specifically, Kelsey declared in court that he “secretly and unlawfully” channeled funds from several sources – one of which was his own state Senate campaign committee – to his federal campaign coffers.

He also admitted to having coordinated with a national political group to make unlawful donations to his federal campaign committee in excess of know limits, actions which resulted in false reporting to the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

Though Kelsey originally pleaded not guilty, it was in October of last year that he initiated to process of pleading guilty, perhaps spurred by a co-defendant's decision to plead guilty.

However, by March of this year, Kelsey decided that he wanted to withdraw that plea, saying that it had been made “with an unsure heart” and while “confused.”

In support of his request, Kelsey cited the stress he had been under due to the recent birth of his twin sons and the fact that his father was terminally ill and on his “death bed.”

Kelsey declared that the November hearing in which he entered his plea was akin to an “out-of-body experience.”

Hoping to achieve the result their client desired, attorneys for Kelsey claimed that he was inexperienced when it came to the criminal justice system and should therefore be given leave to change his plea.

Given Kelsey's background as both an attorney as well as chair of the state Senate Judiciary Committee, however, it is perhaps not surprising that the presiding judge, Waverly D. Crenshaw, was unmoved by the lawyers' entreaties.

Crenshaw said that the court provided Kelsey with numerous avenues through which to raise concerns about his plea along the way and expressed skepticism regarding the assertion that he simply had not grasped the full import of the plea he entered.

“Quite frankly, he came to the court with much more understanding of the process and repercussions than the vast majority of criminal defendants,” Crenshaw opined.

With sentencing set for July, Kelsey's plea could ultimately bring him upwards of 10 years in prison, six years of supervised released, and a fine of up to $500,000, according to the Tennessee Lookout.

Written By:
Sarah May

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