Jeff Fortenberry indicted on charges of lying to the FBI


Federal prosecutors announced an indictment Tuesday against Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska, accusing the Republican congressman of lying to investigators probing a foreign contribution to his 2016 campaign.

Billionaire Gilbert Chagoury, a Nigerian citizen, funneled $30,000 in contributions through other people to Mr. Fortenberry, prosecutors said. They said the congressman learned of the donations but tried to cover them up.

Foreigners are not allowed to contribute money to a federal political candidate.

Mr. Fortenberry released a video to supporters saying he had answered investigators’ questions truthfully.

“We’re shocked, we’re stunned, I feel so personally betrayed. We thought we were trying to help, and so now we will have to fight,” he said.

In text accompanying the video Mr. Fortenberry and his wife Celeste said they held a 2016 fundraiser in Los Angeles where he raised $37,000, and later learned $30,000 of it was from Mr. Chagoury. But at the time he “had no idea.”

In 2019, FBI agents showed up to ask questions and the congressman spoke to them without a lawyer — though he did call local police and ask them to sit in. The agents said they needed his help, so he talked, the congressman and his wife said. He did a follow-up interview with the Justice Department in Washington.

They said they didn’t hear anything “until the Trump Justice Department became the Biden Justice Department.”

The case is being brought by the U.S. attorney’s office for the Central District of California, where the Los Angeles fundraiser took place.

That office said Mr. Fortenberry in the 2019 interviews denied being aware of illegal donations and would have been “horrified” to learn of them. He also never filed an amended report with the Federal Elections Commission about the illegal contributions, the prosecutors said.

Mr. Chagoury has entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the Justice Department where he admitted to contributing $180,000 to four candidates. He is paying a $1.8 million fine and cooperating with authorities.

Mr. Fortenberry faces three felony charges stemming from the interviews.

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