Prosecutors are challenging Fortenberry’s appeal claims, including that he was wrongfully tried in Los Angeles.
LINCOLN, Nebraska (Nebraska Examiner) — Federal prosecutors in California on Friday dismissed appeals by former U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry that he was wrongly convicted of lying to federal agents and that he was wrongly tried in Los Angeles, not Nebraska.
In a 73-page document, prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles argued that at least three district court decisions concluded that the proper place for a trial could be either the area where the crime was committed or the location where the crime was committed. “directed”. or in this case, California.
Prosecutors also argued that the trial judge, U.S. District Judge Stanley Blumenfeld, rightly denied Fortenberry’s defense attorneys’ request to include “incorrect” and “unnecessary” additional instructions to the jury about the “materiality” of the congressman’s statements given to FBI investigators.
Assistant US Attorney Mac Jenkins, lead prosecutor in the Fortenbury case, speaks to reporters after the March verdict. It took a jury in Los Angeles just over two hours to find Fortenberry guilty. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)
Fortenberry, who has represented Nebraska’s 1st congressional district since 2005, was convicted in March of three felony charges of lying to federal investigators and concealing illegal campaign contributions.
The allegations were related to a 2016 fundraiser in suburban Los Angeles in which Fortenberry raised $30,000 from a handful of Lebanese Americans.
Investigate foreign donations
The funds were later revealed to have come from a single individual, Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire from Paris, Gilbert Chaguri. It is illegal for American politicians to accept donations from foreigners or donations channeled through channels or “fronts.”
Los Angeles-based FBI agents launched an investigation in 2015 into Chaguri and campaign materials he provided to several US politicians, including former US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and then-US Rep. Lee Terry, R-Nebu.
In 2021, Chaguri paid $1.8 million to clear charges that he provided $180,000 in donations to four politicians. Terry said he gave away the $5,200 donation he received as soon as he learned the FBI was investigating.
During Fortenberry’s trial, prosecutors played a tape recording of a June 2018 conversation between the then-Republican congressman and a fundraiser in Los Angeles.
During the call, the organizer, Dr. Elias Ayub, claimed on at least three occasions that the $30,000 was illegal – that it was delivered in a paper bag from an associate of Chaguri and likely belonged to the billionaire.
However, when California FBI agents questioned Fortenberry at his Lincoln home in March 2019, he denied knowledge of any illegal donations and said he was not sure who Ayoub was.
Fortenberry denied the information
Fortenberry also denied any knowledge of illegal donations during a subsequent questioning by FBI agents in Washington, D.C. later in 2019.
A few weeks after this meeting with the FBI, Fortenberry gave away the $30,000 he received to charity — a deferred payment, according to one of his lawyers, was offered by the feds.
Fortenberry, who resigned shortly after being convicted, claimed he was the victim of an overzealous prosecution and that he either misheard, forgot, or had poor cell phone service when told the donations were illegal. .
The tape, played at least three times for jurors in California, became weighty evidence. Every time it played, the jurors took notes to themselves.
In October, Fortenberry’s lawyers filed a 61-page appeal of his conviction with the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals.
Location of trial disputed
Among their arguments was that the trial should have been held not in California, but in Nebraska or Washington, D.C., where “the defendant committed acts constituting the alleged crime.”
Defense lawyers also argued that Fortenberry’s statements to the FBI agents were not “essential” to their investigation, and therefore he should not have been tried or convicted.
Fortenberry, now 62, still lives in Lincoln. The Omaha World-Herald reported that in June he took a job in the private sector with a salary of $144,000 a year.
He was sentenced to two years of probation, a $25,000 fine and 320 hours of community service – the sentence is suspended pending his appeal.
The Nebraska Examiner is part of Newsroom States, a network of newsrooms supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. The Nebraska Examiner maintains editorial independence. For questions, please contact editor Keith Folsom: [email protected] Follow Nebraska Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.