Rep. Jeff Fortenberry was found guilty of lying to the FBI

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry was found guilty of lying to the FBI

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) was found guilty of three felonies on Thursday for lying to and deceiving the FBI about campaign donations made with cash from a foreign national.

After a weeklong trial in Los Angeles, the jury returned the findings after less than three hours of deliberation, according to The Associated Press. On each offence, Fortenberry could face a five-year prison sentence as well as fines.

After the conviction, Fortenberry said, “This is crucial to Nebraska.” Fortenberry read a text from his other daughter, who he said was out of state, while speaking alongside two of his daughters and his wife. His phone was ringing with “wonderful messages,” he said, and he referred to his wife as his “heroine.”

“‘I adore you, Daddy, no matter what anyone accuses you of,’ she said. Just keep in mind that a lot of other people do as well,'” As he read the message from his daughter, Fortenberry remarked. “And you’ll hear my phone ringing throughout the whole thing.” I’m getting so many lovely comments from people all across the world who are praying and pulling for us.”

Prosecutors claimed Fortenberry lied to investigators when he denied knowing that Gilbert Chagoury, a rich Lebanese-Nigerian businessman based in France, donated $30,000 to his campaign through intermediaries during a 2016 fundraiser in Glendale, Calif.

In a 2018 phone call, the organiser of that event, Elias Ayoub, told him about the source of the funds, Fortenberry’s defence maintained that he was distracted or had a bad phone connection. In his own defence, the congressman did not take the stand.

In a statement, Kristi Johnson, the deputy director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office, stated, “Today’s conviction shows the FBI’s dedication to holding elected officials accountable.” “The verdict underlines the significance of telling the truth to law enforcement and demonstrates the government’s commitment to protecting the nation’s interests from foreign influence through illegal campaign contributions,” says the government.

Rep. Anna Eshoo of California, a Democratic colleague of Fortenberry’s, testified on his behalf on Wednesday, telling jurors that she thought he was “honest” and “honourable.” Celeste Fortenberry, Fortenberry’s wife, testified as well, noting that her husband had a busy schedule and that she may not have been paying attention when Ayoub said the money came from Chagoury.

Ayoub had already been approached by the FBI and was cooperating with them when he made the call. In fact, Ayoub was asked by the FBI to contact Fortenberry, and the discussion was recorded.

Investigators visited to Fortenberry’s home

In early 2019, FBI investigators visited to Fortenberry’s home and discreetly videotaped him while questioning him about his involvement in the fundraiser. He denied knowing anything about foreign money or straw donations, but he did say Ayoub said something concerning that prompted him to end the meeting.

Fortenberry and his attorney at the time, former Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), met with the FBI and federal prosecutors in Washington three months later. Prosecutors said Fortenberry reiterated substantially the same denials.

Gowdy also testified on his interactions with prosecutors during the trial.

The prosecution’s tactics in the case, according to Fortenberry’s defence, amounted to effectively creating a crime by having an informant tell the congressman something and then testing him to see if he denied it. Prosecutors, on the other hand, maintained the measures were a valid way to determine if he had independent knowledge of the monies’ origins.

On Thursday, Fortenberry stated, “We always felt like it was going to be difficult to have a fair process here.” “As a result, this appeal will begin right now.”

In October, Fortenberry was charged with two counts of making false statements and one count of conspiring to defraud federal agents.

At the time of the 2016 fundraiser, he was not charged with any campaign finance violations or knowing about the foreign-funded or conduit donations.

His lawyers attempted to have the case moved from Los Angeles to Nebraska, but Judge Stanley Blumenfeld Jr. of the United States District Court dismissed the request.

Chagoury and the straw contributors were actively advocating on behalf of Christian minorities in the Middle East with Fortenberry.

Chagoury, a non-citizen of the United States, acknowledged giving $180,000 to various U.S. candidates and agreed to pay a $1.8 million fine. He signed a deferred prosecution agreement, which permits him to escape further penalty if he follows the terms of the arrangement.

In exchange for his assistance with prosecutors, Ayoub was not charged.

Since Rep. Chaka Fattah Sr. (D-Pa.) was found guilty of corruption charges while in office in 2016, Fortenberry is the first member of Congress to be convicted while in office.

The conviction of Fortenberry could spell the end of the nine-term Republican’s political career. As a felon, he could still run for and serve in Congress, though given the prospect of expulsion, he is likely to retire.

When asked if he will continue his campaign, Fortenberry said on Thursday, “We’re going to spend some time as a family, and that’s what we’re doing right now.”

According to the Associated Press, Blumenfeld permitted Fortenberry to remain free pending his sentencing on June 28. In most cases, criminal defendants in federal court are unable to appeal until the conviction is finalised at the time of sentencing.

Fortenberry announced his intention to seek for reelection in a January video shot in his Ford F-150 pickup alongside his wife and puppy. He remained silent about his protracted legal battle, which polarised Nebraska Republicans and tarnished his image in the state.

Many prominent Republicans in Nebraska have shifted their support to state Sen. Mike Flood, who has jumped into the race in the state’s 1st Congressional District amid concerns that Fortenberry’s conviction could cost the party a seat.

The district covers a rural region of eastern Nebraska as well as liberal-leaning Lincoln. Patty Pansing Brooks, a progressive state senator, is expected to win the Democratic nomination for the seat.

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