A federal grand jury in Los Angeles indicted Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) on charges of lying to federal agents over foreign contributions to his 2016 campaign.
Prosecutors say that Fortenberry lied to FBI and IRS agents during two 2019 interviews, during which he claimed not to have known that Nigerian-Lebanese billionaire Gilbert Chagoury funneled $30,000 into his 2016 campaign.
According to the indictment, Fortenberry called an unnamed person involved in the illegal contribution scheme in March 2018 to ask about holding a fundraiser in Los Angeles. On the call, the person allegedly told Fortenberry that “$30,000 cash” contributed to his 2016 campaign had been illegal foreign contributions, likely from Chagoury.
Unknown to Fortenberry, prosecutors say, the person Fortenberry called had been cooperating with the FBI since September 2016.
The person purportedly added to Fortenberry on the call that the $30,000 “probably did come from Gilbert Chagoury because he was so grateful for your support [for] the cause.” It’s not clear from the charging document what “cause” that was.
FBI and IRS agents came knocking on Fortenberry’s door in March 2019; the congressman allegedly said during that interview that he was unaware of illegal foreign contributions to his 2016 campaign. In a follow-up July 2019 interview with federal agents in D.C., Fortenberry allegedly said that he had not been told on the 2018 call about the illegal cash.
Rather, Fortenberry allegedly told the FBI agents that he had shut down that call after the person made a “concerning comment.”
In fact, prosecutors say, Fortenberry asked the person to host another fundraiser for him after learning that a previous event had led to illegal foreign cash being funneled into his campaign.
Fortenberry only disgorged the $30,000 in contributions after the July 2019 interview, prosecutors say.
The allegations charged in the indictment took place, at the latest, that July. It’s not clear why it took more than two years from that interview to bring charges against Fortenberry.
Fortenberry has trumpeted his coming indictment over the past few weeks. His campaign briefly fundraised off of the FBI investigation, before renouncing it.
On Tuesday, Fortenberry released a YouTube video of himself, his wife, and their dog, taken in what appears to be the back of their car with what may or may not be a cornfield as a backdrop.
“We do this every now and then,” he says on the tape, referring to the drive.
“About five and half years ago, a person from overseas illegally moved money into my campaign,” he says, adding that he was not aware of it and that the person and those who helped him were “caught and punished.”
Then, Fortenberry adds, “FBI agents from California” appeared at his home. Fortenberry said he spoke to them without a lawyer.
Now, they’re charging him with a crime, he says.
“We’re shocked, we’re stunned,” he says. “We will fight these charges — I did not lie to them, I told them what I knew.”
Read the indictment here: