NASHVILLE, Tennessee (AP) — A Nashville social club owner pleaded guilty Wednesday to a campaign finance scheme that also involved the failed Congressional campaign of a Tennessee state senator in 2016.
Joshua Smith, 45, pleaded guilty to aiding and inciting the solicitation and spending of at least $25,000 in so-called “soft money” — or funds not subject to federal restrictions and reporting requirements — in connection with a federal election.
The plea comes three months before state senator Brian Kelsey, a Republican, is due to appear in court after pleading not guilty to federal campaign fraud. Kelsey, who is not up for re-election this year, has… criticized the charges as a “political witch hunt”.
Smith’s attorneys informed a federal judge earlier this month that a plea deal had been reached with the prosecutors.
Smith made no comment during Wednesday’s hearing, except to confirm to the judge that he understood and agreed to the plea deal. His sentencing hearing is on June 9, 2023, where the maximum sentence is five years in prison.
A five-count indictment filed in October 2021 alleges that Smith, owner of The Standard Club, and Kelsey violated campaign finance laws by illegally concealing the $91,000 transfer during the legislature’s 2016 congressional campaign.
The Standard is a restaurant and private club near the Capitol that is frequented by lawmakers and has its own political action committee.
According to the indictment, Kelsey and Smith “illicitly and secretly” funneled money from Kelsey’s state senate campaign committee to his federal congressional campaign committee.
Prosecutors also allege that Kelsey and others caused a national nonprofit political organization to make illegal and excessive campaign contributions to Kelsey by coordinating with the organization on advertising, and caused the organization to file false reports with the Federal Government. Election Commission.
The indictment mentions, but does not accuse, two alleged co-conspirators, one of whom is described as a lawyer and a former member of the Tennessee House who was evicted in 2016. Former Representative Jeremy Durham, a Republican attorney for Franklin, was the only legislator to be evicted that year.
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