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How The Forum linked a North Dakota state senator to a child porn suspect

The newspaper requested phone records that showed Nicholas Morgan-Derosier and Sen. Ray Holmberg texted each other 72 times while Morgan-Derosier was in jail.

North Dakota Capitol
North Dakota Capitol in Bismarck.
Forum News Service file photo
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The story: North Dakota’s longest-serving state senator exchanged 72 texts with jailed child porn suspect

In January, The Forum received a vague tip to watch a federal criminal case in North Dakota: USA v. Nicholas Morgan-Derosier. The Grand Forks man was accused of possessing child porn and taking children from their Minnesota home to his North Dakota house with the intent of sexually abusing them.

The Forum initially reported on the case when it was unsealed. As we watched the case progress, transcripts from a detention hearing became public. In the transcripts, prosecutors said Morgan-Derosier was text messaging with a 77-year-old Grand Forks man when Morgan-Derosier was in jail. The unnamed 77-year-old man asked Morgan-Derosier to bring Morgan-Derosier’s 19- or 20-year-old boyfriend over for a massage, prosecutors said.

The prosecution’s statements in the court transcript led The Forum to request the phone numbers Morgan-Derosier texted or called while in jail. Most on the list were either attorneys or bail bondsmen, but the final number on the list matched that of North Dakota Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks. Holmberg was the only person whose phone number was on the list and matched the prosecutor’s description.

Several websites, including the Grand Forks-East Grand Forks Chamber of Commerce, listed the phone number found on the list as belonging to Holmberg. The North Dakota Legislative website also previously displayed the number as Holmberg’s, though the Legislative Council confirmed the number was changed Dec. 23.

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After this discovery, The Forum then asked the jail for a list of times and dates phone calls were made and text messages were sent between Morgan-Derosier and Holmberg’s number, as well as who sent them. Records showed Morgan-Derosier and Holmberg exchanged 72 text messages between Aug. 23 and 24, 65 of which were in a two-hour period.

The Forum pushed for prosecutors and the jail to release the content of the messages, but those requests were denied. A reporter then called Holmberg, who acknowledged he knew Morgan-Derosier and exchanged text messages with him. However, Holmberg said he did not have the messages. The senator also said he didn’t know Morgan-Derosier was in jail at the time of the text conversations.

The jail records, obtained through public records requests, and the court transcripts tied Holmberg to a child porn and sex abuse suspect, which raised a number of questions that have yet to be answered.

About a week after the article was published on April 15, Holmberg announced he would resign from the state Legislature on June 1. Holmberg had previously announced in March that he would not run for reelection, but his retirement has moved up about six months.

Resources used in developing this story included:

  • Transcripts from the detention hearing (see below).
  • A requested list of numbers Morgan-Derosier texted/called while in jail, as well as jail records showing when Holmberg and Morgan-Derosier texted each other. (see below).
  • Several websites, including the Grand Forks-East Grand Forks Chamber of Commerce site, were referenced to determine that a phone number on the aforementioned list was Holmberg's.
  • The North Dakota Legislative Council.
  • Interview with Ray Holmberg .

The Forum chose to redact Holmberg's phone number out of concerns for his privacy. It also redacted information from the transcript that could identify potential victims in the case.

April Baumgarten joined The Forum in February 2019 as an investigative reporter. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, N.D., where her family raises Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
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