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North Dakota Sen. Holmberg to resign after text exchanges with jailed child porn suspect

An investigation published by The Forum on April 15 revealed that North Dakota Sen. Ray Holmberg exchanged 72 text messages in August with Nicholas Morgan-Derosier, a Grand Forks County Jail inmate suspected of child porn and sex abuse crimes.

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Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, gives a speech after receiving an award from the Grand Forks East Grand Forks Chamber of Commerce on Dec. 28, 2020.
Forum News Service file photo
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BISMARCK — North Dakota Sen. Ray Holmberg announced Monday, April 25, that he will resign from the state Legislature following a Forum report that he exchanged text messages with a man accused of child pornography crimes.

"Recent news stories have become a distraction for the important work of the legislative assembly during its interim meetings," Holmberg said in a news release. "I want to do what I can, within my power, to lessen such distractions. Consequently, in respect for the institution and its other 140 members, I shall resign my Senate seat effective June 1, 2022."

Holmberg said the June 1 date will give GOP leaders in his district time to appoint his replacement. None of Holmberg's interim committees are scheduled to meet before the resignation date.

Holmberg did not respond to a request for comment Monday, and his Fargo-based attorney, Mark Friese, said he didn't have anything to add to his client's statement.

The Grand Forks Republican senator, who was first elected in 1976, announced in March he would not seek another term this year, citing health issues including weakened cognitive abilities. The retirement announcement prompted an outpouring of praise for Holmberg from the state’s top officials.

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An investigation published by The Forum on April 15 revealed that Holmberg exchanged 72 text messages in August with Nicholas James Morgan-Derosier, a Grand Forks County Jail inmate suspected of child porn and sex abuse crimes.

Holmberg, North Dakota’s longest-serving state senator, told The Forum he sent text messages to Morgan-Derosier about “a variety of things,” including patio work Morgan-Derosier did for him. Holmberg said he didn’t know Morgan-Derosier was in jail during their virtual conversation.

Five months prior to the text exchanges, The Grand Forks Herald wrote a story about 10 child porn charges filed against Morgan-Derosier in Grand Forks County District Court. In an initial interview, Holmberg told The Forum he had read the story, but he later said he was unaware of Morgan-Derosier’s child porn charges in a follow-up interview.

The state charges have been dismissed to make way for federal prosecution.

Holmberg, who recently changed his phone number, previously told a reporter he no longer had the text messages with Morgan-Derosier.

“They’re just gone,” he said.

Five days after The Forum published its investigation, Holmberg resigned his leading role on Legislative Management, a powerful state committee that manages the Legislature’s work between sessions.

In the wake of The Forum’s story, a 2020 Twitter thread making sexual assault allegations against Holmberg gained new traction. Former North Dakota resident Caton Todd alleged he was sexually assaulted by Holmberg in 2010 after Holmberg invited the man to stay at his condominium in Florida.

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Todd told Forum News Service that Holmberg invited him to spend time at a Miami-area condo that Holmberg owned.

“We’re investigating this,” attorney Friese said. “That the two were acquainted and spent time together is not in dispute. Any accusations of inappropriate behavior we dispute.”

Friese did not deny that Holmberg invited Todd to visit him in Florida. He also confirmed that Holmberg owned a condo in the Miami area at that time.

A spokesman for Gov. Doug Burgum said the Republican governor supports Holmberg’s decision to resign, but he did not elaborate.

Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, said Holmberg made the right decision to step down because he wasn't running for reelection and the news reports served as a distraction not just for the Legislature, but for Holmberg.

Wardner said people will think Holmberg is resigning because he's guilty, but that is not necessarily the case. The Republican leader noted Holmberg has not been criminally charged, and he's "being tried and sentenced in the media."

"I think people need to remember that Sen. Holmberg has given a lot of time and energy to serving North Dakota," Wardner added.

North Dakota GOP Chairman Perrie Schafer declined to comment on Holmberg's resignation. Schafer noted the party has not yet seen anything to suggest Holmberg is guilty of a crime.

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North Dakota Democratic-NPL Chairman Pat Hart said Holmberg's decision to leave the Legislature "was not only the right decision, but really the only decision under the circumstances."

“North Dakotans need legislators they can put their full faith in to carry out their duties," Hart said in a statement. "This is a sad situation, and one that shouldn’t be hanging over our state legislature.”

Messages left for Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski and Grand Forks/East Grand Forks Chamber of Commerce CEO Barry Wilfahrt were not immediately returned Monday.

Jeremy Turley is a Bismarck-based reporter for Forum News Service, which provides news coverage to publications owned by Forum Communications Company.
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