By Fred Knapp , Reporter/Producer Nebraska Public Media
Oct. 19, 2021, 4:30 p.m. ·
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Veteran First District Congressman Jeff Fortenberry has been indicted for allegedly lying to the FBI and covering up illegal contributions to his 2016 congressional campaign.
The indictment filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California charges that Fortenberry tried to conceal a $30,000 contribution Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire Gilbert Chagoury, funneled through other individuals at a Los Angeles fundraiser in 2016. In a video statement posted before the charges were filed, Fortenberry said he cooperated with the investigation, and is shocked that he would be charged.
“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,” Fortenberry said.
The indictment, and a news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Central District of California, charge that Fortenberry knew the contributions were illegal, and even asked a person who helped arrange them to host another fundraiser two years later. Fortenberry, now serving his ninth term, is a conservative Republican known for his work to protect persecuted Yazidis and Christians in Iraq.
In a written statement accompanying the video, Celeste Fortenberry wrote “This has all the marks of being a political attack, a bogus charge manufactured to take him out.” She said the fundraiser where the illegal contributions were made was a celebration by a Lebanese community in Los Angeles of her husband’s service to persecuted Christians in the Middle East. “What he didn’t know was that a foreign national had given attendees $30,000 to give to Jeff,” Celeste Fortenberry wrote.
She wrote that agents and prosecutors repeatedly assured her husband he was not a target and was in fact a victim. “And then, radio silence – until the Trump Justice Department became the Biden Justice Department,” she wrote, adding the California prosecutor was in the running for a big promotion.
Reacting to the indictment of the Republican congressman, Nebraska Democratic Party Chair Jane Kleeb said “Serving 16 years in Congress has tainted Fortenberry, who cares more about political donations than serving the people of our state.”
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