Rep. Fortenberry found guilty of lying to FBI
U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) was found guilty Thursday of lying to the FBI about an illegal contribution to his campaign in 2016.
Fortenberry was convicted of one count of falsifying and concealing material facts and two counts of making false statements after he was interviewed twice by FBI agents investigating Gilbert Chagoury, a Nigerian billionaire who made a $30,000 contribution to Fortenberry’s campaign, The Associated Press reported.
He faces up to five years in prison and fines for each count, according to the AP. Sentencing is slated to take place on June 28.
Attorneys for Fortenberry argued that federal agents set him up to be prosecuted by telling him about the donation during a 2018 phone call, but that before then he was unaware of the contribution, according to the AP.
Officials interviewed Fortenberry a year after the initial phone call and indicted him after he was unable to restate all of the details from the earlier conversation, the defense team said.
Defense attorney John Littrell also placed emphasis on the relative insignificance of the amount of money Fortenberry was given.
“Do you think he would put his reputation on the line for $30,000 when he had $1.5 million?” asked Littrell, according to the AP. “That’s not possible.”
The prosecution also focused on the 2018 call, which took place between Fortenberry and Dr. Elias Ayoub, the host of the 2016 Los Angeles fundraiser where Fortenberry received the donation. Fortenberry did not know the call was being recorded.
Ayoub, who was cooperating with the FBI, told Fortenberry on the call that he had given the $30,000 to friends who were at the fundraiser so that they would use it to contribute to Fortenberry’s campaign, according to the wire service.
Ayoub added that the money had probably come from foreign billionaire Chagoury.
Fortenberry, a nine-term congressman, is running for reelection in this year’s midterms.