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Fortenberry asks court to dismiss indictment

Lawyer argues charges should not have been brought in California

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., is facing charges of lying to FBI agents and other federal investigators.
Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., is facing charges of lying to FBI agents and other federal investigators. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry is asking a federal judge to dismiss the indictment alleging he lied to federal authorities who were investigating illegal contributions to his reelection campaign because the charges should not have been brought in California.

The Nebraska Republican is facing charges of lying to FBI agents and other federal investigators who interviewed him in connection with an inquiry into Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire Gilbert Chagoury, who was illegally funneling foreign money into American political campaigns, including that of Fortenberry’s. Foreign nationals, like Chagoury, are prohibited by law from making campaign contributions to U.S. federal candidates.

Fortenberry is charged with three felonies — one count of participating in a scheme to falsify and conceal material facts and two counts of making false statements to the FBI and other federal investigators. Each charge carries a statutory maximum of five years in federal prison.

Chagoury arranged to funnel $30,000 to Fortenberry’s reelection campaign in 2016 through intermediaries. Those intermediaries transferred Chagoury’s money to Fortenberry’s campaign at a Los Angeles fundraiser.

In a Nov. 2 motion, Fortenberry’s lawyer, John Littrell, argues the case should not have been filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California because the alleged crimes did not occur in that state.

“This case concerns two alleged false statements. One was uttered in Nebraska; the other, in Washington, D.C. Neither statement was made in California,” Littrell wrote. “The government’s attempt to drag Congressman Fortenberry across the country to face a jury of Californians for these alleged offenses represents a gross abuse of power by the Department of Justice.”

California is where federal agents were conducting the investigation into Chagoury. It is also where the fundraiser was held in which the illegal contribution was made to Fortenberry’s campaign.

As required by House GOP Conference rules, Fortenberry resigned his committee assignments on Oct. 20, the day after he was indicted. He was the top Republican on the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee and could return to his committees if the charges are dismissed, if he is acquitted or if the charges are reduced to less than a felony.

“The Congressman will ultimately be victorious in this case. He did not lie to the FBI, and in fact was trying to help them,” Jim Morrell, a Fortenberry spokesperson, said in a statement. “This case was brought by an ambitious federal prosecutor in California who wants to drag a Republican Congressman from Nebraska all the way across the country to face a California jury.”

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