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Fortenberry convicted on 3 felony counts in campaign finance case

He faces a maximum of 15 years in federal prison

Nebraska Republican Rep. Jeff Fortenberry was convicted Thursday on two counts of making false statements to federal investigators and one count of scheming to falsify and conceal material facts.
Nebraska Republican Rep. Jeff Fortenberry was convicted Thursday on two counts of making false statements to federal investigators and one count of scheming to falsify and conceal material facts. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Republican Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska was found guilty Thursday of concealing information and lying to federal authorities about $30,000 in illegal campaign contributions made to the his 2016 reelection campaign.

A federal jury in Los Angeles convicted Fortenberry on two counts of making false statements to federal investigators and one count of scheming to falsify and conceal material facts, according to a Justice Department spokesperson. He faces up to five years in federal prison on each count, which would be a maximum of 15 years on all three felonies.

He is to be sentenced June 28 before U.S. District Judge Stanley Blumenfeld Jr.

In a brief statement after the verdict, Fortenberry said he would appeal.

“We always felt like it was going to be hard to have a fair process here,” Fortenberry said in a video posted by an Omaha World-Herald reporter. “So this appeal starts immediately.”

Fortenberry’s team had argued the charges should not have been brought in California.

“After learning of illegal contributions to his campaign, the congressman repeatedly chose to conceal the violations of federal law to protect his job, his reputation and his close associates,” U.S. Attorney Tracy L. Wilkison said in a statement. “The lies in this case threatened the integrity of the American electoral system and were designed to prevent investigators from learning the true source of campaign funds.”

The nine-term congressman stepped aside from his assignment on the Appropriations Committee after being indicted in October, in accordance with House Republican Conference rules. Now that he has been convicted, Fortenberry must be removed within 10 legislative days under the conference rules. Until his legal troubles, he was the top Republican on the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee.

The inquiry into Fortenberry, 61, began as a wider investigation into Gilbert Chagoury, a Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire who illegally funneled foreign money into U.S. political campaigns. Foreign nationals are prohibited by law from making campaign donations to a federal candidate.

Chagoury arranged to distribute $30,000 to Fortenberry’s campaign through conduits in January 2016, according to the indictment. Eventually, Dr. Elias Ayoub, using money that originated from Chagoury, distributed it to his friends and family at a 2016 fundraiser he hosted at his Los Angeles home so they could write checks to Fortenberry’s reelection campaign, The Associated Press reported.

Ayoub cooperated with federal investigators and took part in recorded phone calls with Fortenberry while authorities were listening. Fortenberry made false statements during a March 23, 2019, interview run by the FBI and IRS at his home in Lincoln, Neb., and at a July 18, 2019, interview conducted by the FBI and U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, D.C.

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