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Former North Dakota lawmaker's state-issued laptop, iPad seized after texts with child porn suspect

Federal agents took several electronic items and storage devices from Ray Holmberg's home in November, including some the state of North Dakota gave him to use as a lawmaker, his attorney confirmed.

010819.n.fns.forecast John Hageman photo
Ray Holmberg, a Grand Forks Republican, resigned from the North Dakota Senate on June 1, 2022. He's seen here addressing members of the state House and Senate appropriations committees on Jan. 7, 2019.
Forum News Service file photo
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FARGO — A former North Dakota lawmaker’s electronics, including devices the state issued to him, were seized by federal investigators shortly after the lawmaker texted a jailed child porn suspect.

Retired Sen. Ray Holmberg’s attorney Mark Friese confirmed to The Forum on Wednesday, June 8, that investigators seized some of Holmberg's electronic items and storage devices. That included some assigned to the former senator by the state that he used as a legislator, Friese said.

North Dakota Legislative Council Director John Bjornson said Holmberg turned in several items on June 1, his last day as a lawmaker, including his State Capitol ID and parking pass. What was not turned in was a laptop and iPad the state issued to Holmberg, Bjornson said.

Holmberg, 78, announced in April he would resign after The Forum reported he exchanged text messages with Nicholas James Morgan-Derosier in late August. Morgan-Derosier, a 34-year-old from Grand Forks, was in the Grand Forks County Jail and faced state child porn charges at the time of the text exchanges.

MORE COVERAGE OF RAY HOLMBERG
Legislative expense reports show Sen. Ray Holmberg of Grand Forks spent more than $125,000 on travel over the last decade, far exceeding the average for lawmakers.

Morgan-Derosier now is charged in federal court. The Grand Forks man is accused of sharing child porn and taking two children from their Minneapolis-area home to his house with intentions to sexually abuse them.

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A federal prosecutor said during Morgan-Derosier’s January detention hearing that a 77-year-old Grand Forks man asked or told Morgan-Derosier “he wants him to bring (Morgan-Derosier’s 19- or 20-year-old boyfriend) over to his house to give him a massage,” according to a transcript of the hearing. This was part of the prosecution's argument to show Morgan-Derosier exploited people.

The 77-year-old man was not named, though Holmberg was that age at the time of the text exchanges. Records obtained by The Forum showed Holmberg and Morgan-Derosier exchanged more than 70 texts over a two-day period.

Holmberg previously acknowledged to a reporter that he texted Morgan-Derosier. The then-senator said it was about "a variety of things," including patio work Morgan-Derosier did for him.

When asked about the massage request, Holmberg told The Forum, "I don't know what you're talking about, OK?”

Holmberg said the texts were “gone” when asked if a reporter could review the messages. Jail officials and federal prosecutors have declined to disclose the contents of the text messages, citing the open investigation into Morgan-Derosier.

The Forum also uncovered a police report that said Homeland Security agents and a Grand Forks police detective seized items from Holmberg’s home in mid-November, including writable CDs and DVDs. The three investigators also worked on the Morgan-Derosier case. The police report did not give a reason for the search of Holmberg's home, which came less than three months after Holmberg's texts with Morgan-Derosier.

The Associated Press first reported that devices the state issued to Holmberg were seized by law enforcement. Holmberg referred The Forum's questions about the state devices to his attorney Friese.

“At one point, I was told the state property was being returned, but it apparently has not,” Friese said in an email to The Forum. “I’ll need to defer to Legislative Council for any comment regarding their property.”

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Bjornson declined to comment on why the laptop and iPad were not returned or whether law enforcement contacted the Legislative Council about Holmberg’s use of state-owned electronics.

“Legislative Council and legislator communications are protected under state statute,” Bjornson said.

The state gave Holmberg a second iPad in November, which was returned this month, Bjornson said.

Before his resignation, Holmberg was the longest-serving state senator in the U.S. The Grand Forks Republican was a powerful legislator who chaired the North Dakota Senate Appropriations committee and Legislative Management.

Holmberg initially announced in March that he did not plan to run for reelection before his term expired at the end of this year, citing health issues including weakened cognitive abilities.

But 10 days after The Forum's April 15 story on the text exchanges, Holmberg announced his plan to resign June 1. That announcement also came after a report on a 2020 Twitter thread that alleged he sexually assaulted a North Dakota resident in 2010 while they were at the then-senator's condominium in Florida.

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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