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Press Release


For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Middle District of Tennessee

NASHVILLE – Former Tennessee State Senator and practicing attorney Brian Kelsey was sentenced today to one year and nine months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, for violating campaign finance laws and conspiring to defraud the Federal Election Commission (FEC) as part of a scheme to benefit his 2016 campaign for U.S. Congress.

According to court documents, Kelsey, 45, of Alexandria, Virginia, secretly and unlawfully funneled money from multiple sources, including his own Tennessee State Senate campaign committee, to his federal campaign committee. To carry out the scheme, Kelsey conspired with others, including Joshua Smith, who owned a members-only social club in Nashville, of which Kelsey was a member, and controlled a Tennessee political action committee affiliated with the club. Kelsey, Smith, and others caused a national political organization to make illegal and excessive contributions to Kelsey’s federal campaign committee by secretly coordinating with the organization on advertisements supporting Kelsey’s federal candidacy, which caused false reports of contributions and expenditures to be filed with the FEC.

“Brian Kelsey intentionally violated federal campaign finance laws and his oath as a state senator in order to deny Tennessee voters their right to make informed decisions about his candidacy for Congress,” said United States Attorney Henry C. Leventis for the Middle District of Tennessee. “The court’s sentence today reflects the seriousness of his crimes and is a strong reminder of our commitment to root out public corruption and ensure the integrity of federal elections.”

“The defendants attempted to hide from voters how Kelsey raised and spent campaign money,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicole M. Argentieri of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “The integrity of our elections is essential to democracy, and voters should know how candidates raise and spend campaign dollars. The Department will continue to work alongside our law enforcement partners to uncover and prosecute campaign finance schemes designed to evade disclosure, and to ensure that violations of these laws carry a high cost.”

Kelsey and his co-conspirators orchestrated the concealed movement of $91,000 – $66,000 of which came from Kelsey’s State Senate campaign committee, and $25,000 of which came from a nonprofit corporation that publicly advocated on legal justice issues – to a national political organization for the purpose of funding advertisements that urged voters to support Kelsey in the August 2016 primary election. Kelsey and his co-conspirators also caused the political organization to make $80,000 worth of contributions to Kelsey’s federal campaign committee in the form of coordinated expenditures.

“The sentence handed down today makes it clear that no one is above the law,” said Assistant Director Luis Quesada of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division. “The FBI diligently investigates campaign finance fraud to ensure that U.S. elections are free from unfair influence, and anyone caught attempting to scheme their way into office will be held accountable.”

Joshua Smith was also sentenced today to five years of probation, a $250 fine, and 720 hours of community service for aiding and abetting the solicitation, receipt, direction, transfer, and spending of soft money in connection with a federal election.

The FBI Memphis Field Office investigated the case.

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



Mark H. Wildasin

Executive Assistant U.S. Attorney

(615) 736-2079

Updated August 11, 2023