U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry Appears Headed for Trial After Judge Refuses to Dismiss Charges

U.S. Representative Jeff Fortenberry is one step closer to heading to trial in California after U.S. District Judge Stanley Blumenfeld Jr. denied motions to dismiss the charges against him on Monday.

Fortenberry, a Nebraska Republican, is accused of hiding information and lying to FBI agents who were investigating an illegal $30,000 donation made by Nigerian billionaire Gilbert Chagoury during a Los Angeles fundraiser for his campaign in 2016.

Prosecutors allege that Fortenberry lied to the FBI when he told them he wasn't aware the donation came from an illegal overseas source and that he properly reported all of the donations made to his campaign.

Fortenberry's attorneys filed a motion to have the charges thrown out by arguing that the alleged false statements made to the FBI were said in his Lincoln, Nebraska, and Washington, D.C. homes, so they couldn't be used in California.

Blumenfeld denied the motion and upheld the charges.

"Because Defendant's allegedly false statements were directed at federal investigative efforts occurring in this district, the Court finds that venue is proper in the Central District of California," Blumenfeld wrote in his decision.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry Charges Hold Up
A federal judge rejected Representative Jeff Fortenberry's attempts to get charges thrown out regarding false statements to the FBI. Above, Fortenberry, a Nebraska Republican, walks through the Capitol Building on October 15, 2013, in Washington, D.C. Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Agents interviewed Fortenberry twice, and prosecutors allege that the nine-term congressman was warned in a phone call that the donation was illegal and that he didn't properly disclose them in his campaign filings.

Blumenfeld rejected Fortenberry's arguments that his statements didn't have any effect on the federal investigation, and the congressman's claims that he didn't have a legal duty to disclose the allegedly concealed information. He also rejected Fortenberry's claims that prosecutors had concocted multiple charges from a single alleged offense.

Blumenfeld also denied Fortenberry's motion to disqualify a prosecutor from the case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mack Jenkins. Fortenberry's attorneys have said they wanted to call him as a witness, and they believe Jenkins misled Fortenberry's previous lawyer into thinking that authorities wanted to interview Fortenberry as a potential witness, not as a target of their investigation.

Fortenberry still has a motion pending to try to suppress statements he made to investigators. A court hearing is set for January 11. His trial is scheduled to start February 15, but it has already been postponed several times.

Campaign spokesman Chad Kolton said Fortenberry will continue to fight the charges.

"This case still has enormous flaws, which have existed from the earliest days of the investigation and remain even after today's decision," Kolton said. "Mr. Fortenberry has always had great faith in the American people's ability to judge what is fair and just. Nebraskans will see this case clearly for what it is: a California prosecutor's attempt to use deceptive investigative tactics to set up a widely respected member of Congress."

Fortenberry was first elected to Nebraska's heavily Republican 1st Congressional District in 2004 and he has easily defeated his Democratic challengers over the years. Some Democrats argue that the indictment makes him more vulnerable in the district, which includes left-leaning Lincoln as well as surrounding farmland and more conservative small towns in eastern Nebraska.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.