Congressman Jeff Fortenberry found guilty of concealing facts and lying to investigators investigating illegal campaign contributions | USAO-CDCA
LOS ANGELES – U.S. Representative Jeff Fortenberry, who represents Nebraska’s 1st congressional district, was found guilty tonight by a federal jury of withholding information and making false statements from federal authorities investigating illegal contributions made by a foreign national in the congressman’s 2016 re-election campaign.
Fortenberry, 61, of Lincoln, Nebraska, who has served in Congress since 2005, was convicted of one count of conspiracy to falsify and conceal material facts and two counts of making false statements to investigators federal.
United States District Judge Stanley Blumenfeld Jr. has scheduled a sentencing hearing for June 28. Each of the three felony charges carries a maximum statutory sentence of five years in federal prison.
“After learning of illegal contributions to his campaign, the congressman repeatedly chose to cover up violations of federal law to protect his job, reputation and loved ones,” said U.S. attorney Tracy L. Wilkison. . “The lies in this case threatened the integrity of the US electoral system and were intended to prevent investigators from learning the true source of campaign funds.”
“Today’s sentencing underscores the FBI’s commitment to holding elected officials accountable,” said Kristi Johnson, deputy director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office. “The verdict underscores the importance of being honest with law enforcement and demonstrates the government’s commitment to protecting the nation’s interests from foreign influence through illegal campaign contributions.”
“Jeff Fortenberry lied to federal agents in order to conceal illegal contributions to his re-election campaign,” said IRS Criminal Investigations Special Agent Ryan L. Korner. “Today’s guilty verdict shows that no one is above the law, and the IRS-CI and our law enforcement partners will continue to hold our officials accountable.”
According to evidence presented in a seven-day trial, Fortenberry lied and misled authorities during two interviews conducted by federal authorities investigating illegal contributions to Fortenberry’s reelection campaign made by a foreign billionaire in the United States. early 2016. Gilbert Chagoury, a national alien barred by federal law from contributing to a U.S. election, donated $30,000 of his money through “straw donors” who attended a fundraiser for the Fortenberry campaign held in Los Angeles.
It is illegal for foreign nationals to contribute to a federal campaign. It is also illegal for the true source of campaign contributions to be disguised by funneling the money through third-party conduits.
Chagoury entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the United States Attorney’s Office in 2019 in which he admitted to providing approximately $180,000 which was used to make illegal contributions to four different political candidates in the US election. Chagoury paid a $1.8 million fine.
The 2016 Fortenberry fundraiser co-organizer, who is referred to in court documents as “Individual H,” began cooperating with federal authorities in September 2016 and tipped off special agents from the FBI and the IRS Criminal Investigation of Illegal Contributions. In response, investigators began looking into whether the Fortenberry campaign had received any illegal contributions, whether Fortenberry was aware of the illegal contributions – both foreign contributions and through contributions – during the 2016 fundraiser, whether Fortenberry knew of Chagoury’s illegal foreign contributions and whether Fortenberry had any. communications with Chagoury regarding illegal contributions made during the 2016 fundraiser.
In the spring of 2018, Fortenberry reached out to Person H to organize another fundraiser. During a call in June 2018, Individual H repeatedly told the Congressman that a close associate of Chagoury and political ally of Fortenberry – Toufic Joseph Baaklini, who also entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the prosecutors – had provided him with $30,000 in cash to be directed to Fortenberry’s campaign during the 2016 fundraiser. Individual H told Fortenberry that the money – which was distributed to other people during of fundraising so that donations could be made in their name and avoid the limitations of individual donors – “probably came from Gilbert Chagoury”.
Although he knew of the illegal campaign contributions, Fortenberry did not file an amended report with the Federal Election Commission.
Instead, upon learning of this information, Fortenberry made false and misleading statements during a March 23, 2019 interview with investigators who specifically told him that lying to the federal government was a crime. Fortenberry falsely told investigators that he was unaware that Baaklini had ever been involved in illegal campaign contributions, that the individuals who contributed to the 2016 fundraiser were all publicly disclosed, and that he was unaware of any contributions to his campaign from a foreign national. .
During a second interview on July 18, 2019 with federal investigators and prosecutors, Fortenberry made other false statements, including denying that he was aware of any illicit donations made during the 2016 fundraiser, denying that Individual H had told him that Baaklini had provided the $30,000 in cash. at the 2016 fundraiser, and stating that he would have been “horrified” to learn of the Conduits’ illegal contributions.
During this second interview, Fortenberry also incorrectly stated that he ended the June 2018 call with Individual H after that person made a “concerning comment”, when in fact Fortenberry continued to ask Individual H to organize another fundraiser for his campaign, according to court documents.
The FBI and IRS Criminal Investigation investigated this matter.
Assistant United States Attorney Mack E. Jenkins, Chief of the Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section, and Assistant United States Attorneys Susan S. Har and J. Jamari Buxton, also of the Corruption Section Public and Civil Rights, are pursuing this case.