Fortenberry goes on trial for campaign finance charges in December – Lincoln Journal Star

Fortenberry goes on trial for campaign finance charges in December

Fortenberry, 10.5

U.S. Congressman Jeff Fortenberry speaks during a Lincoln Chamber of Commerce lunch Tuesday at the Country Club of Lincoln. He talked to business leaders about the important issues facing Nebraskans at the federal level and the impact in Lincoln.

FRANCIS GARDLER, Journal Star

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry will go to trial in Los Angeles on Dec. 14 on federal charges that he lied to the FBI and concealed information about illegal campaign contributions that he accepted from foreign sources in 2016.

Fortenberry pleaded not guilty to those charges at a preliminary hearing on Wednesday in Los Angeles in which he participated by video.

The Republican congressman’s attorney, John Littrell of Los Angeles, informed Magistrate Judge Rozella Oliver that he would file a motion later to dismiss the case because of a lack of venue in Los Angeles since all the contacts involved were in the District of Columbia and Nebraska.

Littrell is a specialist in white-collar defense and investigations. 

Assistant U.S. Attorney Mack Jenkins, chief of the public corruption and civil rights section of the U.S. Department of Justice in Los Angeles, told the magistrate that Fortenberry “lied and misled repeatedly” in attempting to obstruct a federal investigation into the 2016 contributions.

The congressman was focused on “self-image and political survival,” he said.

Jenkins said he intends to call eight witnesses, some of whom apparently are or were employees in the congressman’s office. 

Oliver set what she described as a “pretty standard” $50,000 appearance bond and directed Fortenberry to avoid all contact with prospective witnesses in the case. That includes text messages and email communication, she said.

The magistrate said she saw no need for any pretrial supervision.

Fortenberry’s participation in the proceedings was essentially limited to acknowledging the magistrate’s decisions.

The case has attracted national attention, including a statement of support from former President Donald Trump on Wednesday.

“Isn’t is terrible that a Republican congressman from Nebraska just got indicted for possibly telling some lies to investigators about campaign contributions when half of the United States Congress lied about made-up scams,” Trump said.

The charges against the Lincoln congressman, who has represented eastern Nebraska’s 1st District since 2005, include one count alleging that he schemed to falsify and conceal material facts and two counts of making false statements to federal investigators. He was indicted by a federal grand jury.

At issue are illegal contributions that his 2016 campaign received from a Nigerian-born billionaire named Gilbert Chagoury who lives in Paris. 

Chagoury allegedly arranged for $30,000 in cash to be contributed to Fortenberry’s campaign through other individuals during a fundraising event in Los Angeles.

The investigation started after the host of the fundraiser began cooperating with federal officials.

The allegations carry a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison.

Fortenberry was reelected to a ninth term in 2020 and is the dean of Nebraska’s congressional delegation. He is a former member of the Lincoln City Council. 

The congressman stepped aside from his House committee assignments, as the rules require, in a brief message to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday.

“I am grateful for the outpouring of support from my friends and colleagues as we work against the injustice confronting me,” he wrote. 

“Even as I do, I will continue to focus on the most important issues facing Nebraska and America,” he said.

Fortenberry is a member of the House Appropriations Committee.

The congressman was reelected in 2020 with 59% of the vote after an unusually tough challenge from Democratic nominee Kate Bolz, then a Lincoln state senator. 

In 2016, Fortenberry defeated underfunded and little-known Democratic nominee Daniel Wik of Norfolk, winning almost 70% of the vote.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSdon

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