Fortenberry Accused in Indictment of Lying to FBI
WASHINGTON — Nine-term Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., has been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of lying to the FBI and concealing information from federal agents investigating campaign contributions illegally made to him by a Nigerian billionaire.
The indictment stems from an FBI investigation into $180,000 in illegal campaign contributions from Gilbert Chagoury.
According to the authorities, the contributions were funneled through a group of Californians from 2012 through 2016 and went to four U.S. politicians, including $30,200 to Fortenberry in 2016 and $10,000 to then-Rep. Lee Terry, who represented the Omaha area in 2014.
The Justice Department alleges that a cohost of the 2016 fundraiser told Fortenberry that the donations probably did come from Chagoury, but Fortenberry never filed an amended campaign report with the Federal Election Commission as required.
It says he later “made false and misleading statements” to federal investigators during the March 23, 2019 interview.
“It is illegal for foreign nationals to make contributions to a federal campaign. It also is illegal for the true source of campaign contributions to be disguised by funneling the money through third-party conduits,” the Justice Department said in a press release. “And it is illegal for a federal candidate to knowingly receive foreign or conduit contributions.”
The release goes on to say, “Chagoury entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the United States Attorney’s Office in 2019 in which he admitted providing approximately $180,000 that was used to make illegal contributions to four different political candidates in U.S. elections. Chagoury also agreed to pay a $1.8 million fine and cooperate with federal authorities.”
According to the indictment, Fortenberry falsely told investigators that he wasn’t aware of an associate of Chagoury being involved in illegal contributions, that the donors were publicly disclosed and that he wasn’t aware of any contributions from a foreign national.
In a second interview in July 2019, the indictment says Fortenberry denied that he was aware of any illicit donation made during the 2016 fundraiser.
The congressman responded to the charges by posting a YouTube video filmed inside his 1963 pickup truck, with his wife Celeste and their dog Pippen at his side.
“We do this every now and then,” he said as they sat parked next to a field of corn. He then told his viewers he had “something hard to tell you.”
“About five and a half years ago a person from overseas illegally moved money to my campaign,” he explained. “I didn’t know anything about this and he used some other Americans to do so. They were all caught and punished, thankfully.
“About two and a half years ago, I had a knock on my door,” he continued. “They were FBI agents from California. I let them in my house. I answered their questions. Later we went back and answered further questions.
“I told them what I knew and what I understood. They’ve accused me of lying to them, and are charging me with this,” he said.
Fortenberry said he was “shocked” and felt personally betrayed by the charges.
“We thought we were trying to help,” he said.
Fortenberry vowed to fight the charges, adding, “I did not lie to them. I told them what I knew.”
“Hopefully this all ends happily for the sake of justice, for the sake of my own integrity, and for the sake of the American system. This is wrong on so many levels,” he said.
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