Judge Rejects Fortenberry Motions to Block Corruption Trial
By Bill Kelly , Senior Producer/Reporter Nebraska Public Media
Jan. 3, 2022, 8:45 p.m. ·
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A Federal District Court Judge in California rejected all claims Congressman Jeff Fortenberry made in an attempt to head off a criminal trial on charges he lied to FBI agents investigating campaign corruption. The order, issued by Los Angeles-based Federal District Judge Stanley Blumenfeld, was a setback for the Republican representative of Nebraska's First District.
Judge Blumenfeld released his order Monday morning, dismissing four separate arguments questing the strength and validity of the case against Fortenberry.
The U.S. Attorney charges Fortenberry misled and lied to FBI agents investigating an allegedly illegal $30,000 campaign donation from a foreign national five years ago.
A prepared statement released by Fortenberry's Congressional campaign did not directly address the court's ruling. However, it reiterated, "this case still has enormous flaws, which have existed from the earliest days of the investigation and remain even after today's decision."
In a series of court filings, the Congressman's legal team argued the case was filed in the wrong jurisdiction, that charges duplicated one another, and that insufficient evidence exists to support the allegations.
Judge Blumenfeld, noting Fortenberry admitted knowing foreign-based campaign contributions were illegal and required a report to election officials, found the U.S. Attorney had "sufficient" cause to charge the Congressman with lying about his knowledge of the transaction.
The judge's order also noted valid reasons to file the charges in California even if Fortenberry resides in Nebraska and serves in Washington D.C. The alleged campaign cash changed hands in an L.A. restaurant.
In a fourth filing, Fortenberry claimed that even if he made misstatements to the federal investigators, nothing said interfered with their corruption allegations.
The judge said there was sufficient evidence to consider in a trial because Fortenberry's "allegedly false statements were capable of influencing the investigation including its scope and direction even if they did not actually do so."
The judge also rejected a request to have Assistant U.S. Attorney Mack Jenkins, who filed the charges, taken off the case because of alleged bias. The defense team wants the option to call him as a witness. The judge ruled Fortenberry did not establish a "compelling need" to put his accuser on the stand.
The prepared statement released by Chad Kolton, representing Fortenberry's campaign, said "Mr. Fortenberry has always had great faith in the American people's ability to judge what is fair and just." He added, "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."
The trial is scheduled for later this year.
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