© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Jeff Fortenberry, (R-NE) speaks during testimony by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at a hearing on the State Department’s budget request for 2020 in Washington, U.S. March 27, 2019. REUTERS/Erin Scott/File Photo
By Jan Wolfe
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. jury on Thursday convicted U.S. Congressman Jeff Fortenberry, a Republican from Nebraska, of lying to FBI investigators about illegal contributions to his 2016 re-election campaign.
Following a trial in Los Angeles federal court, the jury found Fortenberry guilty of scheming to falsify and conceal material facts, along with two counts of making false statements to federal investigators.
Prosecutors accused Fortenberry of lying to investigators during two interviews in 2019 about $30,000 in campaign contributions he received in 2016 from Nigerian billionaire Gilbert Chagoury.
Federal law prohibits foreign nationals from donating to federal election campaigns.
Fortenberry’s lawyers said he did not mean to mislead FBI agents but was caught off-guard by their interview request and suffered from a faulty memory.
Prosecutors alleged that an associate who hosted a 2016 fundraiser for Fortenberry told him in a 2018 telephone call that the donations in question “probably did come from Gilbert Chagoury” but were routed through intermediaries to avoid individual donor limits.
According to the U.S. Justice Department, when FBI agents quizzed Fortenberry about the campaign contributions he denied being aware of any illegal donations.
“If we want to expect anyone to follow the law, ultimately it starts with the law-makers,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Mack Jenkins told media outside the courthouse after the verdict was announced.
“I think that’s even more paramount when the investigation itself goes to election integrity.”
Fortenberry, 61, has served in Congress since 2005.
The three felony charges each carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for June 28 before U.S. District Judge Stanley Blumenfeld in Los Angeles.
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