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Wednesday, June 12, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Former Nebraska congressman reindicted on false statements charges

Jeff Fortenberry's previous conviction in California was overturned by the Ninth Circuit.

(CN) — When a panel of federal judges overturned Jeff Fortenberry's conviction in 2023, the former U.S. House member wasn't out of the woods.

A federal jury found Fortenberry, a Republican, guilty in 2022 in California of concealing an illegal campaign donation from a Nigerian-born, Paris-based, billionaire and lying about it to the FBI. But in December 2023, a Ninth Circuit panel tossed the conviction, citing venue issues.

After the unanimous decision, a prosecution spokesman said the ruling did not preclude a retrial. Federal prosecutors refiled the charges in Washington D.C. on Wednesday, with the new indictment being made public Thursday.

Fortenberry, 63, who resigned from the U.S. House following his overturned conviction, stands accused of falsifying and concealing material facts and making false statements in connection to what prosecutors describe as illegal $30,000 donation by Gilbert Chagoury, the billionaire.

The false statements were made in interviews with federal investigators at the Congressman's home in Lincoln, Nebraska, and at his office in Washington, prosecutors claim in the indictment.

"The Biden/Garland Justice Department seems intent on dragging Jeff Fortenberry around the country to face one trial after another until it can secure a conviction that actually holds up. This case never should have been brought in the first place, and it shouldn’t have been pursued again after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled so decisively in Fortenberry’s favor," Fortenberry spokesperson Chad Kolton said in a statement.

"This is a disgraceful misuse of prosecutorial power, and an egregious waste of resources at the time when the Justice Department is letting actual crime run rampant."

Fortenberry, a Louisiana native, represented Nebraska's 1st Congressional District from 2005 through March 2022, when he resigned from the House following his conviction.

He had come to know Chagoury through their mutual involvement with In Defense of Christians, a nonprofit that lobbies Congress on behalf of Christian groups and other religious minorities in the Middle East that face persecution.

Although prosecutors say the illegal campaign contribution occurred at a 2016 fundraiser in Los Angeles, where Fortenberry was first tried, the charges only pertain to statements Fortenberry made some three years later after the organizer of the fundraiser started cooperating with the FBI investigation into Chagoury. Investigators suspected the billionaire, who has a house in Beverly Hills, was secretly injecting foreign money into U.S. election campaigns.

Fortenberry's attorneys argued there was no evidence that in the 2018 phone call the congressman received on his cellphone, he heard or understood what the fundraiser told him. They have also said Fortenberry was entrapped by the prosecution regarding his recollection of a 10-minute phone call a year later.

The jury found Fortenberry guilty of concealing a $30,000 illegal contribution from Chagoury and lying to the FBI when they questioned him about donation. The judge sentenced him to two years probation, finding his crimes to be "out of character" for the longtime politician and requiring of prison.

Chagoury paid $1.8 million in 2021 as part of a deferred prosecution agreement with the Justice Department over $180,000 in illegal contributions he made to four different campaigns.

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Categories / Courts, Criminal, Government, Law, National, Politics, Uncategorized

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