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Press Release

Nashville Social Club Owner Pleads Guilty to Campaign Finance Scheme

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

The former owner and operator of a social club in Nashville pleaded guilty today to violating campaign finance laws to benefit Tennessee State Senator Brian Kelsey’s 2016 campaign for U.S. Congress.

According to court documents, Joshua Smith, 45, of Nashville, Tennessee, secretly and unlawfully funneled $67,000 of what is commonly referred to as “soft money” (funds not subject to the limitations, prohibitions, and reporting requirements of the Federal Election Campaign Act [FECA]) from Kelsey’s Tennessee State Senate campaign committee to a national political organization that funded advertisements urging voters to support Kelsey in the August 2016 primary election.

Smith pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the solicitation, receipt, direction, transfer, and spending of at least $25,000 in “soft money” in connection with a federal election. He is scheduled to be sentenced on June 9, 2023, and faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

In connection with this scheme, Kelsey was indicted by a federal grand jury in October 2021 and charged with conspiracy to defraud the Federal Election Commission, illegally transferring “soft money” as a federal candidate, illegally transferring “soft money” as a state officeholder, and making and accepting excessive contributions to a federal campaign. The case is scheduled for trial in January 2023.

Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Mark H. Wildasin for the Middle District of Tennessee made the announcement.

The FBI is investigating the case.

Trial Attorney John Taddei of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Amanda Klopf for the Middle District of Tennessee and David Pritchard for the Western District of Tennessee are prosecuting the case.

An indictment is merely an allegation. All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Updated October 19, 2022

Voting and Elections
Press Release Number: 22-1129