Rep. Jeff Fortenberry Indicted for Lying to Feds About $30,000 Campaign Contribution

Republican Nebraska Representative Jeff Fortenberry was indicted by a grand jury on Tuesday after he allegedly lied to federal investigators about the source of a $30,000 campaign contribution.

The 60-year-old U.S. representative, who was elected to represent Nebraska's 1st Congressional District in 2005, was indicted on one count of scheming to falsify and conceal material facts and two counts of making false statements to federal investigators.

The charges stem from Fortenberry's alleged attempt to conceal information from authorities who were investigating a donation to the congressman's 2016 re-election campaign by a foreign billionaire, according to court documents.

Fortenberry is accused of lying to investigators on more than one occasion and misleading them during a federal investigation. Authorities believe that Lebanese-Nigerian businessman Gilbert Chagoury arranged for $30,000 to be contributed towards Fortenberry's re-election through other individuals during a Los Angeles fundraiser.

Under federal law, foreign nationals are prohibited from contributing to elections in the United States, and it is illegal for the source of campaign contributions to be hidden by using third-party conduits to funnel the money. It's also unlawful for a federal candidate to knowingly receive foreign donations or contributions through conduits.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry
Nebraska Congressman Jeff Fortenberry was indicted by a grand jury on Tuesday after he allegedly lied to federal investigators about the source of a $30,000 campaign contribution. Pictured: US officials including Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) (C) and Congressman Gregory W. Meeks (R), senior Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee arrive for the funeral of slain President Jovenel Moïse on July 23, 2021, in Cap-Haitien, Haiti VALERIE BAERISWYL/AFP via Getty Images

Chagoury entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. Attorney's Office in 2019 and admitted to providing around $180,000 in illegal contributions to four American political candidates in different elections. He also agreed to cooperate with authorities and pay a $1.8 million fine.

According to the indictment, the cohost of Fortenberry's 2016 fundraiser, who is listed as Individual H in court documents, informed special agents with the FBI and IRS Criminal Investigation about the third-party contributions and started working with federal authorities in September 2016.

Investigators responded by examining whether the congressman's campaign did receive illegal funds and whether Fortenberry knew about the foreign and conduit contributions at the fundraiser. They also looked into whether Fortenberry knew about foreign funds from Chagoury and if they had any contact regarding the funds.

Two years later, Fortenberry contacted Individual H in the spring of 2018 to host another fundraiser. In June, Individual H allegedly told the congressman that an associate of Chagoury, Toufic Joseph Baaklini, provided him with $30,000 cash to go toward Fortenberry's campaign at the 2016 fundraiser.

Fortenberry did not amend the report with the Federal Elections Commission despite learning of the source of the campaign contributions, the indictment alleges. It continues that Fortenberry allegedly "knowingly and willfully falsified, concealed, and covered up by trick, scheme, and device material facts" after learning the truth of the illegal funds.

During a March 23, 2019 interview with investigators, Fortenberry allegedly made false and misleading statements despite being warned it was a crime to lie to the federal government.

According to the indictment, Fortenberry is accused of telling investigators he was not aware of Baaklini being involved in the campaign contributions and that all individuals who contributed to the 2016 fundraiser were publicly disclosed. The congressman also allegedly said he was not aware of contributions from any foreign national.

In another interview on July 18, 2019, Fortenberry allegedly made false statements denying any knowledge of unlawful contributions to federal investigators and prosecutors. Court documents also accuse him of denying Individual H said Baaklini provided $30,000 at the 2016 fundraiser and Fortenberry allegedly said he would be "horrified" to learn about illicit conduit donations.

During the same interview, the congressman allegedly said he ended the June 2018 call with Individual H after that individual made a "concerning comment," however the indictment states that Fortenberry continued asking Individual H to host fundraisers for his campaign.

Each of the three felonies Fortenberry's faces carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison. The congressman agreed to appear for an arraignment on October 20 in United States District Court in Los Angeles.

Newsweek reached out to the Department of Justice for comment.