LOS ANGELES – Nebraska U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry was convicted Thursday of lying to federal authorities about an illegal এর 30,000 campaign contribution from a foreign millionaire to his campaign in a 2016 Los Angeles fundraiser.
A federal jury in LA held about two hours of deliberations before convicting nine term Republicans for withholding information and making two false statements to authorities. After denying the FBI, Fortenberry was accused of being aware that he had received illicit funds from Gilbert Chagry, a Nigerian billionaire of Lebanese descent.
Fortenberry did not show any emotion as soon as the verdict was read but her young daughter started crying uncontrollably in front of the gallery as her mother tried to comfort her. After the jury left the courtroom, Fortenberry walked over to his wife and two of his five daughters who were present and hugged them.
Outside of court, Fortenberry said the process was unfair and he would appeal immediately. He did not say whether he would suspend the re-election campaign because he was going to spend time with his family.
“I literally get a lot of good messages from people around the world who are praying for us and pulling for us,” he said.
The judge set the sentence for June 28. Each count carries a possible five-year prison sentence and fine.
This is the first trial of a current Congressman since he was convicted in 2002 of taking bribes and other criminal charges.
Fortenberry, 61, did not testify but his lawyers argued during the trial that he was not aware of the contribution and that agents had instructed an informant to provide information in a 10-minute call to set him up.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Mc Jenkins said the case contains ample documentary evidence and the jury’s speedy verdict attested to the prosecution’s efforts.
“Our view is that this was a common story,” Jenkins said. “A politician is stuck in a cycle of money and power. And as I said, he has lost his way.”
The trial could end the political career of a congressman who is seen as a reliable conservative who won easily but is not a well-known name outside of Nebraska. The Fellows are qualified to run and serve in Congress, but the vast majority choose to resign under threat of expulsion.
Fortenberry suffered a major political blow when prosecutors announced the allegations, and his allegations have already divided Nebraska Republicans who have supported him for years in conservative districts. Many prominent Republicans have backed Sen. Mike Flood, a Conservative state lawmaker, and former Speaker of the Nebraska Legislature for the congressional seat.
Prosecutors argued that Fortenberry lied about what he knew about illegal grants during an interview at his Lincoln home in March 2019 and during a follow-up meeting in Washington about his contributions to a fundraiser in Los Angeles.
Defense attorneys said Fortenberry’s error was voluntarily met with agents and prosecutors to assist in their investigation and with a defective memory.
Lawyer’s wife Celeste Fortenberry was the final witness in the case and testified that her husband did not even remember the day they met. He said he hated fundraising calls and was often on “autopilot” when he handled them.
Lawyers for both sides of the lawsuit focused their concluding argument on a call with Dr. Elias Ayub, who raised funds for Fortenberry in 2016 at his Los Angeles home.
Ayub, who was collaborating with the FBI, told Fortenberry during a secretly recorded call in June 2018 that he had distributed $ 30,000 to fundraising friends and relatives so they could write checks for Fortenberry’s campaign.
The doctor said the money was provided by one of their associates and probably came from Chagauri, who lives in Paris. Chagauri has admitted to financing $ 180,000 in 2019 for contributing to four illegal campaigns and has agreed to pay a 1.8 million fine.
The three men involved in the alleged money laundering scheme were of Lebanese descent and had ties to the defense of Christians, a non-profit Fortenberry supporter dedicated to fighting religious persecution in the Middle East.
Fortenberry called Ayub to arrange another fundraiser with supporters of their cause.
In 2019, Fortenberry denied to FBI agents that he had received any funds from a foreign national or through so-called Conduit contributions, where the money was distributed among hay donors.
Fortenberry, who recorded his call with Ayub by anonymous agents, said it would be “terrible” if the doctor made such a claim about the source of the funds.
Defense attorney John Little said the call recordings only illustrated what was heard on the edge of Job, and not what Fortenberry, whose cellphone reception was weak, heard.
If Fortenberry hadn’t heard the three key words, he might have missed out that Ayub was trying to tell him where the money came from, Little said. It was understandable that Fortenberry did not remember the call even after more than a year, he said.
“It’s a memory test that each of us will fail,” Little said.
Little said the $ 36,000 his client collected in Los Angeles – most of it illegally – was a bucket for a congressman in an uncontested district in the midst of a healthy war. He said the judges should believe what most witnesses said about Fortenberry: he was an honest man.
“Do you think he would establish his reputation for $ 30,000 when he had 1.5 million?” Little said. “It’s not possible.”
Jenkins countered that Fortenberry’s flamboyant clean reputation was at the root of his lies.
“You have built so much fame, you have so much to lose,” he said. “It’s not reasonable to lie; it’s an intent to lie.”
Patty Pansing Brooks, a former legislator seeking a Democratic nomination for the congressional seat, thanked the jury and offered “thoughts and prayers” for Fortenberry and his family.
“It’s time for Nebraska to elect a new leadership. I will work honestly and fight for all Nebraskans, “he said in a statement.
Reported by Schultz from Omaha, Nebraska.