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Sen. Holmberg spent more on travel than any North Dakota lawmaker in the past decade

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.

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North Dakota Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, speaks on the Senate floor in November 2021.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service
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BISMARCK — A North Dakota legislator under scrutiny for exchanging text messages with a jailed child porn suspect spent more taxpayer money on travel over the last decade than any other state lawmaker, according to state records.

Sen. Ray Holmberg, a Republican from Grand Forks, accumulated $125,810 in travel expenses between 2013 and April 15, 2022, according to a North Dakota Legislature expense report obtained by The Forum. Holmberg went on about 70 out-of-state trips that included meetings in Canada, Puerto Rico, Europe and across the U.S.

North Dakota legislators all together spent roughly $2.1 million on travel during that time. That would equal about $9,200 on average for the 229 lawmakers who served in the North Dakota Legislature since 2013.

The Associated Press first reported the travel expenses, noting Holmberg spent almost 14 times the average amount that his colleagues did. Expense reports prior to 2013 were unavailable.

On Friday, May 13, Holmberg referred questions about his travel expenses to his attorney, Mark Friese.

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“Those in leadership positions have more out-of-state obligations,” Friese told The Forum. “Sen. Holmberg's approved travel was to fulfill his legislative and leadership obligations.”

Holmberg has recently come under fire after The Forum reported he exchanged dozens of text messages in August with Nicholas James Morgan-Derosier , a 34-year-old Grand Forks man who faces federal prosecution on child pornography charges. Prosecutors also allege Morgan-Derosier took two children from their Twin Cities-area home to his Grand Forks residence with plans to sexually abuse them.

A federal prosecutor said a 77-year-old Grand Forks man asked Morgan-Derosier via text message in August to bring Morgan-Derosier’s 19- or 20-year-old boyfriend over for a massage, according to a court transcript.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office would not disclose the name of the 77-year-old man, but Holmberg was that age at the time of the text. Jail records showing Holmberg and Morgan-Derosier texted each other in August while Morgan-Derosier was incarcerated matched the time frame described by the federal prosecutor.

Holmberg has acknowledged texting Morgan-Derosier but said the conversations were about a “variety of things,” including patio work Morgan-Derosier did for Holmberg. Holmberg said he no longer had the texts, saying, “They’re just gone.”

A police report obtained by The Forum revealed a Grand Forks police detective and Homeland Security agents who investigated Morgan-Derosier searched Holmberg’s house in mid-November and seized several items as evidence .

There's been nothing to suggest that Holmberg’s travel is under investigation.

Holmberg's travel expenses mostly revolved around legislative and state government-related meetings and conferences. Other trips included meetings for the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. He also went to Norway for the European Criminal Justice Innovation Project, as well as Washington, D.C., for the commissioning of the USS North Dakota.

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First elected in 1976, Holmberg is the longest-serving state senator in the country. He is the chair of the North Dakota Senate appropriations and rules committees. He also was the head of Legislative Management before stepping down from that post amid news of the text exchanges.

Holmberg said he will resign June 1, after The Forum published on April 15 its investigation into the text messages and after news coverage of allegations made on Twitter that Holmberg sexually assaulted a former North Dakota man in 2010 while in Florida.

Holmberg had already announced in March that he would not seek reelection, with his term set to expire near the end of this year. He cited health issues, including weakened cognitive abilities, as his main reason for not running for reelection.

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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