Rep. Jeff Fortenberry was found guilty Thursday on charges he lied to the FBI about an illegal campaign contribution from a foreign billionaire in 2016.
A federal jury in California found Fortenberry, 61, guilty of one count of falsifying and concealing material facts and two counts of making false statements.
The nine-term Republican was charged after a pair of interviews with FBI agents who were investigating the donor, Gilbert Chagoury – a Nigerian billionaire of Lebanese descent who’s prevented by law from donating to any US elections.
The Nebraska congressman was stoic as the judge delivered the verdict, but one of Fortenberry’s daughters stood up and began sobbing uncontrollably, the Associated Press reported.
Once the jury left, Fortenberry walked over to his wife and daughters and embraced them in a hug before returning to his seat next to his lawyer.
His attorney’s argued that prosecutors knew that the congressman was unaware of the contribution, but directed an informant to feed him the information in a 10-minute call with the intention of trying to prosecute him.
The lawmaker argued that FBI agents then used false pretenses to interview him nearly a year later and indicted him when he failed to recall all of the details from the conversation.
Prosecutors argued Fortenberry lied about what he knew about the illegal donation during an interview with federal investigators at his Lincoln home in March 2019 and again a follow-up meeting four months later in Washington.
Lawyers on both sides of the trial focused their closing arguments on a phone call 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 the congressman in June 2018 that he distributed $30,000 to friends and family who attended the fundraiser so they could write checks to Fortenberry’s campaign.
The doctor said the money had been provided by an associate of theirs and probably came from Gilbert Chagoury – a billionaire living in Paris. Chagoury admitted in 2019 to funneling $180,000 in illegal U.S. campaign contributions to four campaigns and paid a $1.8 million fine.
All 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 nonprofit Fortenberry supported that was devoted to fighting religious persecution in the Middle East.
Fortenberry is running for reelection after winning his previous races handedly. Felons are eligible to run for and serve in Congress, but most choose to resign under threat of expulsion.
The lawmaker is scheduled to be sentenced on June 28.
With Post Wires