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Congressman charged with lying to feds during campaign finance probe

Prosecutors say the Nebraska Republican’s campaign received an illegal $30,000 contribution from a foreign national.

(CN) — A federal grand jury on Tuesday slapped a Republican congressman with charges of concealing information and making false statements to federal investigators who were probing illegal campaign contributions to the politician’s 2016 reelection campaign.

U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, who has represented Nebraska’s first congressional district since 2005, was charged with “one count of scheming to falsify and conceal material facts and two counts of making false statements to federal investigators,” according to a statement released by the U.S. attorney’s office for the Central District of California.

Fortenberry will be arraigned Wednesday. Each of the three felony charges comes with a statutory maximum penalty of five years in federal prison if convicted.

Prosecutors say Fortenberry lied to and misled federal authorities investigating an illegal $30,000 contribution to Fortenberry’s 2016 reelection campaign by foreign national Gilbert Chagoury. In March, Chagoury paid a $1.8 million fine to resolve prosecutors’ allegations that he used third parties to funnel $180,000 to the campaigns of four candidates for federal office. As a French national, Cagoury is prohibited from making financial contributions to any U.S. campaign.

According to the indictment, Fortenberry did not file a report with the Federal Elections Commission after he became aware of the illegality of the funds and lied to investigators during two interviews in 2019. The investigators said Fortenberry, after being informed that it was a crime to lie to the federal government, said he was unaware of any illegal financial contributions.

The indictment refers to an “Individual H” who investigators say cooperated with their investigation and hosted many fundraisers for Fortenberry. According to the indictment, Individual H told Fortenberry that the $30,000 contribution likely came from Chagoury. Investigators said Fortenberry denied this, yet asked Individual H to host another campaign fundraiser.

Before being formally indicted, Fortenberry posted a YouTube video Monday showing him, his wife and dog in a pickup truck. In it, Fortenberry speaks about the charges against him — and acknowledges a foreign national gave money to his campaign — and asked for the support and prayers of his constituents.

“We’re shocked, we’re stunned, I feel so personally betrayed. We thought we were trying to help, so now we will have to fight,” Fortenberry said. “We will fight these charges. I did not lie to them, I told them what I knew.”

A spokesperson for Fortenberry's congressional office declined to comment and referred the matter to a campaign representative. Representatives for Fortenberry's campaign and the Department of Justice did not return requests for further comment.

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