Congressman Jeff Fortenberry said Monday he expects federal investigators to indict him on charges of lying to them, but he said he did not lie to them. Photo courtesy of U.S. House of Representatives
Oct. 19 (UPI) -- A federal grand jury on Tuesday indicted Congressman Jeff Fortenberry on allegations he lied to federal investigators after a campaign scandal five years ago.
The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California issued a statement saying that Fortenberry, R-Neb., was named in an indictment charging him with one count of scheming to falsify and conceal material facts and two counts of making false statements to federal investigators.
Each of the three felony charges carry a statutory maximum penalty of five years in federal prison, the attorney's office said.
The indictment alleges that Fortenberry, who serves as the top Republican on the House Appropriation Committee's agriculture panel, "repeatedly lied to and misled authorities" during a federal investigation into contributions made by Lebanese-Nigerian businessman Gilbert Chagoury.
Chagoury, who entered into a deferred prosecution with the U.S. attorney's office in 2019, allegedly arranged for a $30,000 contribution to Fortenberry's campaign during a Los Angeles fundraiser.
According to the indictment, despite learning of the illegal campaign contributions, Fortenberry did not file an amended report with the Federal Elections Commission and "knowingly and willfully falsified, concealed and covered up by trick, scheme and device material facts" about the illegal campaign contributions.
He also allegedly falsely denied he was aware of any illicit donation and said he ended a 2018 call with the organizer of the fundraiser after he made a "concerning comment" when he in fact continued to ask the person to organize another fundraiser for his campaign, the indictment states.
Fortenberry denied the allegations before they were issued Monday in a YouTube video from his Ford pickup truck with his wife and dog aboard.
"About five and a half years ago a person from overseas illegally moved money to my campaign," he said in the video. "I didn't know anything about this. ... They were all caught and punished."
Fortenberry said that FBI agents from California approached him about two and a half years ago.
"I did not lie to them, I told them what I knew," Fortenberry said. "They accused me of lying to them, and are charging me with this. We're shocked. We're stunned. I feel so personally betrayed. We thought we were trying to help, and so, now, we will have to fight."
Axios reported earlier this month that Fortenberry was raising money for a legal defense fund amid warnings he was under FBI investigation.
Fortenberry has hired attorneys with Bienert Katzman Littrell Williams, based in California, according to campaign finance disclosure forums.
"This has all the marks of being a political attack, a bogus charge manufactured to take him out," a campaign email sent to supporters Tuesday to notify them of the impending indictment said, according to Axios.