House

Federal grand jury indicts Nebraska GOP lawmaker

A federal grand jury on Tuesday indicted Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) for allegedly concealing information and making false statements to authorities investigating illegal contributions to his 2016 campaign.

Fortenberry has been charged with one count of scheming to conceal material facts and two counts of making false statements to federal investigators, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California.

Fortenberry denied the accusations in a video obtained by the Omaha World-Herald earlier Tuesday.

"We will fight these charges. I did not lie to them," Fortenberry said in the videotaped statement. "This is wrong on so many levels."

The charges stem from an FBI investigation into $180,000 in illegal campaign contributions from Gilbert Chagoury, a Nigerian billionaire, that were funneled through a group of Californians between 2012 and 2016 to four American politicians.

The contributions included $30,000 that went to Fortenberry's 2016 reelection campaign during a fundraiser held in Los Angeles.

Foreign nationals are prohibited from contributing to U.S. election campaigns. Chagoury made an agreement with the U.S. attorney's office in 2019 in which he agreed to pay a $1.8 million fine.

The co-host of Fortenberry's 2016 fundraiser allegedly informed the lawmaker in June 2018 that the campaign donations, which were allegedly made through other people so they could circumvent individual donor limits, "probably did come from Gilbert Chagoury."

But the indictment alleges that Fortenberry did not file an amended report with the Federal Election Commission.

Instead, the indictment alleges that Fortenberry "knowingly and willfully falsified, concealed, and covered up by trick, scheme, and device material facts" about the campaign contributions and maintained to federal investigators in multiple interviews in 2019 that he wasn't aware of any campaign contributions from a foreign national.

Fortenberry allegedly said during one of the interviews with investigators that he ended the June 2018 call after the fundraiser co-host made a "concerning comment." But according to the indictment, Fortenberry actually went on to ask the person to host another campaign fundraiser.

Under House GOP conference rules, Fortenberry will have to step down from his seat on the House Appropriations Committee due to his indictment. Fortenberry's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill about when he would relinquish his seat on the committee.

Fortenberry, who has served in the House since 2005, is a senior member of the the House Appropriations Committee and serves as the ranking Republican on the panel's subcommittee with oversight of the Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration. 

Updated 5:58 p.m.

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