A former North Dakota Republican state senator pleaded not guilty to federal child sex abuse charges on Monday — months after the lawmaker resigned following a report revealing he allegedly texted a man in jail for possessing child pornography.
Ray Holmberg, 79, one of the nation’s longest-serving state senators, faces charges in U.S. District Court in Fargo for traveling to Europe with the intent of paying for sex with a minor and receipt and attempted receipt of child pornography, according to the Department of Justice.
Court documents allege Holmberg traveled from North Dakota to Prague, Czech Republic, from June 2011 through November 2016 for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex acts with a minor. The indictment also suggests Holmberg received material depicting a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct from November 2012 to March 2013.
Mark Friese, attorney for Holmberg, told The Associated Press in a text message that authorities investigated his client “for 2 years or more and allege nothing recent. The conduct they allege is from more than a decade ago.”
Friese added that authorities released Holmberg with conditions, and the judge did not require him to post any bond.
Holmberg faces a maximum penalty of 50 years in prison if convicted. Authorities set a trial date for December 5.
The former state senator served more than 45 years in North Dakota until he resigned in April 2022 after The Forum, a local newspaper, reported he exchanged 72 text messages with Nicholas James Morgan-Derosier, a landscaper whom authorities jailed on charges of possessing child pornography. Morgan-Derosier pleaded guilty to seven counts of possession and distribution of child pornography in September.
It was unclear at the time what the two individuals exchanged in the text messages.
According to an Associated Press review of Holmberg’s travel records, the ex-lawmaker received approximately $126,000 in reimbursements for about 70 out-of-state trips between 2013 through April 2022. The outlet reported Holmberg’s travels included four dozen U.S. cities, Canada, Puerto Rico, and several European countries.
In 2021, authorities seized video discs and additional items from Holmberg’s residence in Grand Forks.
Former North Dakota Republican Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, who served as a lawmaker for the state with Holmberg for nearly 25 years, told The Associated Press if authorities convict Holmberg, his time in public office would “be forgotten about, and only the negative things will be remembered.”
“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.