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Forum Editorial: Holmberg should disclose text message exchange with jailed child sex abuse suspect

Sen. Ray Holmberg should be eager to dispel any misunderstandings the public could have about such an intense episode of communication with someone who federal prosecutors have accused of having thousands of images depicting child sexual abuse.

Editorial FSA
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Something quite pressing must have been going on in the curious association between Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, and Nicholas James Morgan-Derosier on Aug. 23 and 24, 2021.

Something that prompted the two men to exchange a burst of 72 text messages, 65 in a two-hour flurry on Aug. 23, tapering to seven the following day.

Prosecutors and law enforcement officers have accused Morgan-Derosier, who is 34, of child pornography and child sexual abuse crimes. He was, in fact, being held in the Grand Forks County Jail when he and Holmberg, North Dakota’s longest-serving state legislator, had their exchange of texts, first reported by The Forum’s April Baumgartner. Inmates can pay to use a jail text messaging service, documents of which The Forum obtained in a public records request.

What was the content of all of those text messages, senator? The Forum asked Holmberg to provide the texts and the senator replied that he didn’t have them. “They’re just gone,” he said.

That’s just unacceptable. Holmberg should be eager to dispel any misunderstandings the public could have about such an intense episode of communication with someone like Morgan-Derosier, whom federal prosecutors have accused of having thousands of images depicting child sexual abuse.

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Holmberg, who said he was aware Morgan-Derosier once faced 10 child pornography charges in state court, told The Forum the texts were about “a variety of things,” including patio work Morgan-Derosier had done for him.

Morgan-Derosier is accused by federal authorities of taking two young children from the Twin Cities to his Grand Forks residence in early 2020 with the intent of sexually abusing them.

What was the content of all those text messages, senator?

State charges against Morgan-Derosier were dropped, and he now faces prosecution in federal court. At a detention hearing in January, a prosecutor called attention to text exchanges between Morgan-Derosier and an unidentified Grand Forks man who was 77 years old, which was Holmberg’s age at the time he had his flurry of messages, according to Grand Forks County Jail records obtained by The Forum.

In a message exchange, according to a transcript containing the federal prosecutor’s presentation at the hearing, the 77-year-old asked or told Morgan-Derosier that “he wants him to bring (Morgan-Derosier’s) boyfriend over to his house to give him a massage.” The boyfriend, who was 19 or 20 at the time, didn’t consider himself a victim. But he told law enforcement officers he was unaware Morgan-Derosier was “serving him up” to a 77-year-old man, unnamed by federal officials.

What was the content of all those text messages, senator?

Holmberg is not only North Dakota’s longest-serving legislator. He is one of the most influential. Until resigning earlier this week, he was chairman of Legislative Management, an important body of 17 legislators that shapes interim legislative reports. He remains chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.

Holmberg has given years of distinguished legislative service, not only to those in District 17 in Grand Forks, but to the entire state of North Dakota. He has a reputation for a mastery of the issues, notably the state budget.

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His announcement in March that he would not seek another term was met with sadness. But he owes his constituents an explanation.

What was the content of all those text messages, senator?

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