Update: Fortenberry Indicted, Denies Lying to FBI
By Fred Knapp , Reporter/Producer Nebraska Public Media
Oct. 19, 2021, midnight ·
UPDATE: Jeff Fortenberry has been indicted by a federal grand jury on one count of scheming to falsify and conceal material facts and two counts of making false statements to federal investigators. Fortenberry is charged with making false statements to federal authorities who were investigating illegal contributions made by a Nigerian businessman to his 2016 re-election campaign.
Nebraska First District Representative Jeff Fortenberry says he expects to be charged with lying to the FBI, but denies the charge and says he’ll fight it.
Fortenberry, a Republican, announced his expected indictment in a video recorded in his pickup truck sitting with his wife, Celeste, and their dog, Pippin. In it, he says five years ago, a foreign national illegally funneled money into his campaign. The Associated Press identified that person as Lebanese Nigerian billionaire Gilbert Chagoury. The Department of Justice announced in March Chagoury paid $1.8 million to resolve allegations of $180,000 in illegal contributions to four U.S. candidates. Fortenberry he got the contributions five years ago. Two and a half years ago, he says, he got a knock on his door in Lincoln.
“They were FBI agents from California. I let them in my house. I answered their questions. Later we went back and answered further questions; I told them what I knew and what I understood. They’ve accused me of lying to them and are charging me with this,” Fortenberry said.
Fortenberry denies the charges.
“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,” he said.
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.”
Celeste Fortenberry wrote that 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,” she wrote.
Celeste Fortenberry 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.
Calls to the U.S. Attorney’s office in Los Angeles, which handled the investigation into the illegal contributions, were not immediately answered.