A retired Republican state senator from North Dakota has been charged with traveling to Europe with the intent of paying for sex with a minor and with receiving images depicting child sexual abuse, according to a federal indictment unsealed Monday.
Longtime state Sen. Ray Holmberg, 79, was arrested Monday and released after pleading not guilty to the charges in U.S. District Court in Fargo. His trial is set for Dec. 5.
Prosecutors said in a statement that Holmberg repeatedly traveled to Prague in the Czech Republic from June 2011 to November 2016 for the purpose of paying for sex with a person under 18 years old. The indictment, which also suggests Holmberg used aliases, says he received and attempted to receive images that depict child sexual abuse from November 2012 to March 2013.
Holmberg served more than 45 years in the North Dakota Senate until his resignation last year, after local media outlet The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead revealed he exchanged dozens of text messages with a person who was jailed on charges related to child sexual abuse images.
Holmberg's attorney, Mark Friese, said in a text message that authorities investigated Holmberg "for 2 years or more and allege nothing recent. The conduct they allege is from more than a decade ago.”
Holmberg was released with conditions, and the judge did not require posting of any bond, Friese said.
A text message sent to Holmberg after his release Monday was not immediately returned, and his phone did not have voicemail so a message could not be left.
Holmberg chaired the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, which writes budgets. He announced in March 2022 that he wouldn’t seek reelection. He cited stress and “a weakened ability to concentrate on the matters at hand and effectively recall events” before ultimately resigning.
Former North Dakota Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner told The Associated Press he was saddened and disappointed by the indictment.
“Here’s a situation where a man was a public servant and did a lot of positive things for the state of North Dakota, and now, I don’t know what’s going to come of this thing, but this really neutralizes all the good,” said Wardner, a Republican who served in the Senate with Holmberg for nearly 25 years.
If Holmberg is convicted, his decades serving the public “will be forgotten about, and only the negative things will be remembered,” Wardner said.
Current Senate Majority Leader David Hogue declined to comment on the indictment.
Holmberg was reimbursed roughly $126,000 for nearly 70 out-of-state trips from 2013 through mid-April 2022 to places that included four dozen U.S. cities, as well as Canada, Puerto Rico and several European countries, according to an AP review of his travel records.
Law enforcement searched his Grand Forks home in November 2021, seizing video discs and additional items.
The indictment comes after Nicholas James Morgan-Derosier pleaded guilty last month in federal court to six counts of possessing images depicting child sexual abuse and one count of receiving and distributing such images. According to The Forum's reporting, Morgan-Derosier was the person texting with Holmberg from jail.
Morgan-Derosier is scheduled to be sentenced in January. A spokesperson for the two federal public defenders who represented Morgan-Derosier did not immediately respond to a phone message regarding his case.
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