Hike sentence

Congressman Faces Jail Time After Campaign Finance Conviction – GV Wire

U.S. Representative Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska was convicted on Thursday of lying to federal authorities about an illegal $30,000 contribution to his campaign from a foreign billionaire at a fundraiser in Los Angeles in 2016.

A federal jury in Los Angeles deliberated about two hours before finding the nine-term Republican guilty of withholding information and two counts of making false statements to authorities. Fortenberry was charged after he denied to the FBI that he knew he had received illicit funds from Gilbert Chagoury, a Lebanese-born Nigerian billionaire.

Fortenberry showed no emotion as the verdict was read, but her youngest daughter began sobbing uncontrollably outside the gallery as her mother tried to console her. After the jury left the courtroom, Fortenberry walked over to his wife and the two of his five daughters who were present and gave them a hug.

Outside the courthouse, Fortenberry said the process had been unfair and he would appeal immediately. He did not say whether he would suspend his re-election campaign, saying he would spend time with his family.

“I get so many beautiful messages from people all over the world, praying for us and shooting for us,” he said.

The judge set the sentence for June 28. Each count carries a five-year prison sentence and fines.

It was the first trial of a sitting congressman since Rep. Jim Traficant, D-Ohio, was convicted of corruption and other felony charges in 2002.

Fortenberry, 61, did not testify but his lawyers argued at trial that he was unaware of the contribution and that officers ordered an informant to provide him with the information during a call from 10 minutes to set it up.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Mack Jenkins said there was ample recorded evidence in the case and the jury’s quick verdict vindicated the prosecution’s efforts.

“Our take is that it was a simple story,” Jenkins said. “A politician caught in the cycle of money and power. And like I said, he got lost.

The lawsuit could all but end the political career of a congressman seen as a reliable conservative who has won easy victories but is not a household name outside of Nebraska. Criminals are eligible to run and serve in Congress, but the vast majority choose to resign under threat of deportation.

Fortenberry took a big political hit when prosecutors announced the charges, and his indictment has already divided Nebraska Republicans who backed him for years in the conservative district. Many prominent Republicans have endorsed state senator Mike Flood, a conservative state lawmaker and former speaker of the Nebraska Legislative Assembly, for the congressional seat.

Prosecutors argued Fortenberry lied about what he knew about the illicit donation during an interview at his Lincoln home in March 2019 and a follow-up meeting four months later in Washington about the contribution received. at a fundraiser in Los Angeles.

Defense attorneys said Fortenberry’s fault was voluntarily meeting with agents and prosecutors to help their investigation and having a failing memory.

Celeste Fortenberry, the lawmaker’s wife, was the last witness in the case and said her husband couldn’t even remember the day they met. She said he hated making fundraising calls and was often on “autopilot” when conducting them.

Lawyers on both sides of the lawsuit focused their closing arguments on such an appeal with Dr. Elias Ayoub, who hosted the fundraiser for Fortenberry at his Los Angeles home in 2016.

Ayoub, who was cooperating with the FBI, told Fortenberry on the secretly recorded call in June 2018 that he distributed $30,000 to friends and relatives who attended the fundraiser so they could write checks for the Fortenberry campaign.

The doctor said the money was provided by an associate of theirs and probably came from Chagoury, who lives in Paris. Chagoury admitted in 2019 to funneling $180,000 in illegal contributions to four campaigns and agreed to pay a $1.8 million fine.

The three men involved in the alleged scheme to funnel the money to Fortenberry were all of Lebanese descent and had ties to In Defense of Christians, a Fortenberry-backed nonprofit dedicated to fighting persecution. religion in the Middle East.

Fortenberry asked Ayoub on the phone to organize another fundraiser with supporters of their cause.

In 2019, Fortenberry denied to FBI agents that he had received funds from a foreign national or through so-called conduit contributions, where the money was distributed to straw donors.

Fortenberry, who was unaware that officers recorded his call with Ayoub, said it would be “horrifying” if the doctor made such a claim about the source of the funds.

Defense attorney John Littrell said the call recording only described what was heard from Ayoub’s side and not what Fortenberry, who had poor reception on his cell phone, heard.

If Fortenberry hadn’t heard as few as three crucial words, he might have missed what Ayoub was trying to tell him about where the money was coming from, Littrell said. The fact that Fortenberry couldn’t remember the call more than a year later was understandable, he said.

“It’s a memory test that all of us would fail,” Littrell said.

Littrell said the $36,000 his client raised in Los Angeles — most of it illegally — was a drop in the bucket for a congressman in an uncompetitive district with a healthy war chest. He said jurors should believe what most witnesses said about Fortenberry: he was a man of honesty and integrity.

“Do you think he would put his reputation on the line for $30,000 when he had $1.5 million?” Littrell said. “It is not possible.”

Jenkins countered that Fortenberry’s impeccable reputation was the source of his lies.

“You build such a reputation, you have a lot to lose,” he said. “That’s no justification for lying; it’s a reason to lie.

Patty Pansing Brooks, a former lawmaker who is seeking the Democratic nomination for the congressional seat, thanked the jury and offered “thoughts and prayers” for Fortenberry and her family.

“It’s time for Nebraska to elect a new leadership. I will serve with integrity and fight for all Nebraskans,” she said in a statement.