Rep. Jeff Fortenberry Resigning After Being Found Guilty of Lying to Investigators in Campaign Probe

The Nebraska Republican's exit comes days after he was found guilty of making false statements to federal investigators regarding $30,000 in campaign donations

Jeff Fortenberry
Jeff Fortenberry. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Nebraska Republican Jeff Fortenberry has announced his resignation from Congress just days after he was found guilty of lying to investigators and concealing facts amid an investigation into illegal campaign contributions made during his 2016 campaign.

"Due to the difficulties of my current circumstances, I can no longer serve you effectively. I will resign from Congress shortly," Fortenberry, 60, said in an email to supporters sent on Saturday.

Fortenberry was indicted by a federal grand jury in October and charged with lying to federal investigators who were looking into donations made to his 2016 re-election campaign.

The Department of Justice announced at the time that Fortenberry had been charged with "one count of scheming to falsify and conceal material facts and two counts of making false statements to federal investigators."

Following a seven-day trial, he was found guilty on those charges last Thursday, with U.S. District Judge Stanley Blumenfeld Jr. scheduling a June 28 hearing to determine how Fortenberry will be sentenced.

According to the Justice Department, "each of the three felony charges carry a statutory maximum penalty of five years in federal prison."

The charges stem from more than $30,000 in contributions made to the Republican's 2016 campaign, which investigators said were arranged by a Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire named Gilbert Chagoury.

According to prosecutors, Chagoury "donated $30,000 of his money through 'straw donors' who attended a Fortenberry campaign fundraiser held in Los Angeles," which Fortenberry later lied about "during two interviews conducted by federal authorities."

Per the department, "it is illegal for foreign nationals to make contributions to a federal campaign. It also is illegal for the true source of campaign contributions to be disguised by funneling the money through third-party conduits."

Chagoury admitted to providing roughly $180,000 toward making illegal campaign contributions via a deferred prosecution agreement with prosesutors in 2019. Those funds went to "four different U.S. candidates," the department said in its announcement last week, and Chagoury paid a $1.8 million fine.

The investigation into Fortenberry began after the co-host of his 2016 fundraiser "began cooperating with federal authorities in September 2016 and informed special agents with the FBI and IRS Criminal Investigation about the illegal contributions," the department said.

According to the indictment, Fortenberry later contacted that co-host about hosting another event in 2018, at which time the unnamed individual told Fortenberry that the $30,000 in earlier donations "probably did come from Gilbert Chagoury."

In a statement, U.S. Attorney Tracy L. Wilkison said Fortenberry had "repeatedly" concealed information in order to "prevent investigators from learning the true source" of the donations.

"After learning of illegal contributions to his campaign, the congressman repeatedly chose to conceal the violations of federal law to protect his job, his reputation and his close associates," Wilkison said in the statement. "The lies in this case threatened the integrity of the American electoral system and were designed to prevent investigators from learning the true source of campaign funds."

IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Ryan L. Korner said the lawmaker "lied to federal agents in order to cover up illegal contributions to his re-election campaign," adding that the guilty verdict "shows that no one is above the law."

Both the Republican and Democratic House leaders had called on Fortenberry to resign following the guilty verdict.

Nebraska Democratic Party Chair Jane Fleming Kleeb said on Twitter that "a special election will now be held" for Fortenberry's seat.

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