ND lawmaker’s state-owned devices seized after inmate texts

Jun 7, 2022, 11:44 AM | Updated: 3:25 pm

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A former North Dakota state senator who resigned following a report that he had traded scores of text messages with a man jailed on child pornography charges reluctantly admitted Tuesday that he was unable to return his state-owned laptop and iPad because they had been seized by law enforcement.

Ray Holmberg, North Dakota’s longest-serving state senator and arguably the state’s most powerful lawmaker, resigned June 1, six months before the end of his term. On that day at the state Capitol, Holmburg turned in his parking pass and an electronic key card to enter the building, said John Bjornson, the Legislature’s top attorney. Holmberg also turned in a second iPad that had been issued to him in November after the first was seized.

Holmberg, 79, bristled at a question by The Associated Press on the location of the electronics. “Why do you care?” he snapped.

“The state knows exactly where they are,” he said. “Everything was seized. They will be returned to the state when they are returned to the state.”

Bjornson said he could not comment on the whereabouts of the state-owned electronics.

“I know they are in good hands and will be returned to us eventually,” Bjornson said.

According to a police report obtained by AP, a police detective and two Homeland Security special agents searched Holmberg’s Grand Forks condominium on Nov. 17.

The police report said Holmberg was present during the search, which came five days after a special session of the Legislature adjourned in Bismarck. Holmberg played key roles in legislative redistricting and appropriating federal coronavirus aid.

In addition to seizing CDRs and DVDRs from a nightstand in a bedroom in Holmberg’s condo, “multiple other items were seized by officers and placed into evidence,” the report said, without identifying the additional items.

The police report did not give a reason for the issuance of a search warrant. It came about three months after Holmberg exchanged 72 text messages with Nicholas James Morgan-Derosier, who was being held in the Grand Forks County Jail.

Prosecutors allege Morgan-Derosier possessed several thousand images and videos depicting sexually abused children. He also is accused of taking two children under the age of 10 from Minnesota to his Grand Forks home, with the intention of sexually abusing them.

The state charges against Morgan-Derosier have been superseded by federal charges that include possession and distribution of child pornography and travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct.

Holmberg, a Republican who became one of the state’s most powerful lawmakers in a career that spanned 46 years, announced in April that he would resign June 1. He had announced in March that his term — which had been scheduled to end on Nov. 30 — would be his last, citing stress and “a weakened ability to concentrate on the matters at hand and effectively recall events.”

Holmberg has not been charged with a crime. His lawyer, Mark Friese, a prominent North Dakota defense attorney, said in a voicemail message to contact the state regarding its property.

“I don’t have any involvement in that,” he said.

Friese has said he has struggled to get information from state and federal authorities on why his client is being investigated.

Bjornson, the Legislature’s top lawyer, said Holmberg requested a second iPad November 29.

The iPad was given to Holmberg with no questions asked and before Holmberg’s text messages with Morgan-Derosier came to light.

“(Holmberg) said he didn’t have access to his iPad and would be traveling,” Bjornson said.

Holmberg has made taxpayer-funded trips to four dozen U.S. cities, China, Canada and several countries in Europe, an AP review of travel records showed. He was reimbursed about $126,000 for nearly 70 trips — all out of state — from 2013 through mid-April of 2022.

He ran up travel expenses the past decade that are more than 14 times what lawmakers bill state taxpayers on average.

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ND lawmaker’s state-owned devices seized after inmate texts