Senate in the ND state Ray Holmberg resigns after report on text messages

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When Nicholas James Morgan-Derosier, a landscape gardener accused of possessing child pornography, was sitting in a prison in North Dakota in August 2021, he was texting people outside. Among them: one of the most powerful senators in the North Dakota legislature, according to jail records obtained by the news media Forum of Fargo-Moorhead.

In all, State Senators Ray Holmberg (R) and Morgan-Derosier exchanged 72 text messages when Morgan-Derosier was detained on child pornography charges, Forum reported – though it is still unclear exactly what they communicated about.

Now Holmberg, the state’s longest-serving senator, who was first elected more than four decades ago, has announced his resignation.

“Recent news stories have become a distraction from the important work of the Legislative Assembly during its preliminary meetings,” Holmberg said in a statement to The Washington Post. “I will do what I can, within my power, to lessen such distractions.”

He said he would resign June 1.

Holmberg declined to comment further. His lawyer, Mark Friese, did not respond to a request for comment. Friese told the Associated Press that Holmberg has not been charged with any crimes and does not expect him to be.

Since he was first elected in 1976, Holmberg has become one of the most powerful legislators in North Dakota, serving as chairman of several top committees, Forum reported. In March, Holmberg announced that he would retire at the end of his term in November, citing unspecified “medical problems” that “do not give me the cognitive ability to do exactly the job required and expected of a senator.” “representing the Grand Forks of eastern North Dakota.

About a month later, the forum reported that on August 23, 2021, Holmberg and Morgan-Derosier exchanged 65 text messages in about two hours as Morgan-Derosier was in jail facing 10 counts of possession of child pornography. The next evening, the men exchanged seven more texts. The forum based the report on prison records it received through a request for public records. The records did not detail the contents of the messages.

Morgan-Derosier used a prison messaging service to communicate with Holmberg, Forum reported.

In response, Holmberg told the news media that he did not know that Morgan-Derosier was in prison at the time of the text exchange. The senator said he communicated with Morgan-Derosier about “a number of things,” including work Morgan-Derosier had been doing on his patio for more than a year. The couple had known each other for a few years, Holmberg added, and he had invited Morgan-Derosier home to his house “a few times” for drinks and coffee.

“We never went out to eat at restaurants,” Holmberg told Forum. “But I do not want to say much more.”

Holmberg first told Forum that he had been aware of the allegations of child pornography against Morgan-Derosier, which were first filed in state court in March 2021, according to the Grand Forks Herald. Then Holmberg denied having knowledge of the accusations in a subsequent interview with Forum.

In mid-December, Morgan-Derosier was charged by a federal court with child pornography offenses and for traveling with intent to engage in illegal sexual conduct. In September 2020, investigators claimed to have discovered thousands of child pornographic images and videos during a search of Morgan-Derosier’s home. By March 2020, Morgan-Derosier had taken two boys from Minnesota to the Grand Forks without permission from their parents, according to a statement.

An attorney representing Morgan-Derosier did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Tuesday. State child pornography charges against Morgan-Derosier were dismissed as the federal case continued, Forum reported.

Less than a week after the forum published its report on the text exchanges, Holmberg resigned as chairman of the legislative leadership, a powerful committee that decides the senators’ tasks.

Now there is bipartisan support for his resignation.

Without elaborating, Republican Gov. Doug Burgum said in a statement that he approved Holmberg’s resignation, the AP reported.

Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner (R) said he had spoken to Holmberg, who felt it was in his “best interest” to resign, according to the AP. He added that Holmberg has not been charged with a crime and “is being prosecuted and convicted in the media,” Forum reported.

Pat Hart, chairman of the North Dakota Democratic-Nonpartisan League Party, called Holmberg’s resignation “the only decision under the circumstances,” Forum reported.

“North Dakotans need legislators they can put their full trust in to carry out their duties,” Hart said. “This is a sad situation, and a situation that should not hang over our state legislature.”

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