Nebraska Congressman Jeff Fortenberry was charged Tuesday with concealing information and lying to federal authorities in a campaign finance inquiry into illegal contributions to the longtime Republican lawmaker's 2016 re-election bid.
Fortenberry, 60, who has served in Congress since 2005, is charged with repeatedly lying and misleading investigators during an inquiry involving Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire Gilbert Chagoury. Prosecutors say Chagoury arranged to contribute $30,000 to the lawmaker's campaign through intermediaries, even though such contributions from foreign nationals are illegal.
The donations were allegedly provided to the campaign at a Los Angeles fundraiser in early 2016.
Chagoury entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with federal prosecutors in Los Angeles in 2019 in which he admitted funneling $180,000 to four different political candidates in U.S. elections. As part of the agreement, Chagoury, one of Africa's richest men, also agreed to pay a $1.8 million fine and cooperate with federal authorities.
According to federal prosecutors, a co-host of the 2016 Los Angeles fundraiser, identified in court documents as "Individual H" informed the the FBI and IRS of the scheme. The information prompted the focus on Fortenberry and whether the congressman was aware that the contributions were prohibited.
In a June 2018 telephone call, according to prosecutors, the informant allegedly told Fortenberry that a Chagoury associate had provided him with $30,000 and that the money was distributed to others at the fundraiser to conceal the actual source of the funds.
"Despite learning of the illegal campaign contributions, Fortenberry did not file an amended report with the Federal Elections Commission," according to court documents.
Fortenberry allegedly made "false and misleading statements" during two separate interviews with interviews with federal investigators in 2019, including that he was not aware of the illicit contributions and the scheme to conceal them.
At the second interview, on July 18, 2019, Fortenberry again allegedly denied knowledge of the scheme, stating that he would have been “horrified” to learn about the illegal contributions from the pre-arranged intermediaries.
In a video posted online, Fortenberry said he would aggressively challenge the criminal case.
"We're shocked; we're stunned," the congressman said, recounting the FBI's interviews. "I feel so personally betrayed. We thought we were trying to help. And so now we will have to fight."
Fortenberry is scheduled to make a first court appearance Wednesday.
Each of the three criminal counts carry a maximum punishment of five years in prison.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Nebraska Rep Fortenberry faces charges in campaign finance inquiry