Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., was charged on Tuesday with lying to the FBI about contributions to his 2016 re-election campaign to him from a Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire.
A federal grand jury in Los Angeles indicted Fortenberry, 60, on one count of “scheming to falsify and conceal material facts” and two counts of lying to federal investigators, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California said in a statement on Tuesday. Each charge carries a statutory maximum penalty of five years in federal prison.
Prosecutors allege that Fortenberry “repeatedly lied to and misled authorities” during a federal investigation into illegal campaign contributions made by Gilbert Chagoury, a Lebanese-Nigerian businessman who is banned by federal law from contributing to any U.S. elections. Chagoury allegedly arranged for a $30,000 contribution to Fortenberry’s re-election campaign during a 2016 fundraiser held in Los Angeles.
Knowingly making false statements to a federal agent during an investigation is a felony. It also is a felony to use conduits, as prosecutors allege in this case, to disguise the source of campaign contributions.
The indictment came a day after the nine-term Republican announced in a YouTube video sent to supporters on Monday evening that he expected to be indicted and proclaimed his innocence.
“We will fight these charges,” he said in the video with his wife and their dog. “I did not lie to them. I told them what I knew. But we need your help.”
Prosecutors said Chagoury entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 2019 in which he admitted funneling roughly $180,000 to four different political candidates. Chagoury agreed to pay a $1.8 million fine and cooperate with federal authorities.
An unnamed informant provided information on Fortenberry’s contributions, prosecutors said, and learned over the course of the investigation that Fortenberry “knowingly and willfully falsified, concealed, and covered up by trick, scheme, and device material facts” about the illegal campaign contributions to federal officials.
Fortenberry is expected to appear for an arraignment in federal court on Oct. 20 in Los Angeles.