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Fortenberry is indicted on charges of lying about campaign donations

A federal grand jury in Los Angeles charged Nebraska Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, the senior Republican on the House panel that oversees USDA funding, with three counts of concealing information and making false statements during an investigation of an illegal $30,000 campaign contribution, said the Justice Department on Tuesday. In a video recorded in his pickup truck, Fortenberry said, “We will fight these charges.”

Fortenberry, 60, was scheduled for arraignment in U.S. district court in Los Angeles on Wednesday. He was charged with one count of scheming to falsify and conceal material facts and two counts of making false statements to federal investigators. If convicted, the felony charges each carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

House Republican rules say a representative must step aside from committee assignments if indicted on a felony with a potential sentence of two years or more. The assignments are restored following acquittal, dismissal, or a reduction of the charges.

It is rare for a sitting representative to be indicted.

“The indictment alleges that Fortenberry repeatedly lied to and misled authorities during a federal investigation into illegal contributions to Fortenberry’s re-election campaign made by a foreign billionaire in early 2016,” said the Justice Department. “Gilbert Chagoury, a foreign national prohibited by federal law from contributing to any U.S. elections, arranged for $30,000 of his money to be contributed through other individuals (conduits) to Fortenberry’s campaign during a fundraiser held in Los Angeles.”

According to the Justice Department, the co-host of the fundraiser told Fortenberry during a June 2018 phone call that the $30,000 “probably did come from Gilbert Chagoury.” Fortenberry did not amend campaign finance reports after the conversation and, according to the indictment, “knowingly and willfully falsified, concealed, and covered up … material facts” about the donation. In March and July 2018 interviews, Fortenberry falsely denied being aware of any wrongdoing in the donations, it said.

“I did not lie to them. I told them what I knew,” said Fortenberry, a nine-term lawmaker, in the video on YouTube. “They’ve accused me of lying to them, and they’re charging with this. We’re shocked.”

In an email, he said the accusations were a political attack on him ahead of the 2022 House elections, reported KOLN Radio.

The Justice Department said in April that Chagoury had paid a $1.8 million fine as part of resolving allegations that he provided $180,000 to individuals in the United States to contribute to four federal candidates. Federal law bars foreigners from donating to U.S. candidates.

Open Secrets, which tracks campaign contributions and lobbying data, identified the four candidates, all Republicans, as Fortenberry, Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, Rep. Darrell Issa of California, and former Rep. Lee Terry of Nebraska.

Earlier this month, Axios reported that Fortenberry had set up a legal defense fund because, he said, “Biden’s FBI is using its unlimited power to prosecute me on a bogus charge.”

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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