Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) was convicted Thursday of lying to federal investigators about an illegal campaign contribution made by a foreign billionaire.
The nine-term congressman was convicted in federal court on three counts, with jurors reaching a verdict after less than three hours of deliberation. Fortenberry faces up to five years in prison on each count, plus fines. His sentencing is set for June 28.
Prosecutors said Gilbert Chagoury, a Lebanese-Nigerian businessman living in France, paid $30,000 through intermediaries at a 2016 fundraiser for Fortenberry in Glendale, California. Fortenberry, prosecutors say, then lied to FBI officials about it, saying he never knew about the donation.
Fortenberry’s defense attorney argued that his client may not have received a clear cellphone when fundraiser organizer Elias Ayoub called him in 2018 and named Chagoury as his source of funds, Politics reports. While Fortenberry did not testify, his wife, Celeste, did, and said that because her husband is always very busy, he may not have been very attentive during the call with Ayoub. .
At the time of their conversation, Ayoub was working with the FBI and recorded his conversation with Fortenberry. In 2019, FBI agents came to Fortenberry’s home and secretly videotaped him while asking about the fundraiser. Fortenberry denied knowing anything about the foreign money given to his campaign.