LOS ANGELES — U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska was convicted Thursday of charges that he lied to federal authorities about an illegal $30,000 contribution to his campaign from a foreign billionaire at a 2016 Los Angeles fundraiser.
A federal jury in California found the nine-term Republican guilty of one count of falsifying and concealing material facts and two counts of making false statements. Fortenberry was charged after sitting for two interviews with FBI agents who were investigating the donor, Gilbert Chagoury, a Nigerian billionaire of Lebanese descent.
Fortenberry argued at trial that prosecutors knew that the congressman didn’t know about the contribution, but directed an informant to feed him the information in a 10-minute call with the intention of trying to prosecute him.
His attorneys said FBI agents then used false pretenses to interview Fortenberry nearly a year later and indicted him when he failed to recall all of the details from the conversation.
Each count carries a potential five-year prison sentence and fines.
The trial could all but end the political career of a congressman seen as a reliable conservative who coasted to easy wins but isn’t a familiar name outside of Nebraska. Felons are eligible to run for and serve in Congress, but the vast majority choose to resign under threat of expulsion.
Fortenberry, who is running for reelection, took a big political hit when prosecutors announced the charges, and his indictment already divided Nebraska Republicans who backed him for years.
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