Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images Jeff Fortenberry
Nebraska Congressman Jeff Fortenberry was indicted by a federal grand jury this week and charged with lying to federal investigators who were looking into his 2016 campaign.
The charges stem from more than $30,000 in contributions made to the Republicans' campaign, which investigators claim were arranged by a foreign billionaire: Nigerian Gilbert Chagoury.
Fortenberry, 60, was named in an indictment "that charges him with one count of scheming to falsify and conceal material facts and two counts of making false statements to federal investigators," the Department of Justice announced on Tuesday.
Federal law prohibits foreign nationals from contributing to U.S. elections, or from disguising the true source of those contributions by funneling them through other parties.
It is also illegal for a federal candidate to knowingly receive campaign contributions from a foreign national or conduit.
The indictment claims that Chagoury arranged for "$30,000 of his money to be contributed through other individuals (conduits) to Fortenberry's campaign during a fundraiser held in Los Angeles."
The Department of Justice says Chagoury began cooperating with the U.S. Attorney's Office in 2019, entering into an agreement in which he admitted to providing some $180,000 in illegal campaign contributions to four different U.S. political candidates. As part of that agreement, Chagoury must pay a $1.8 million fine.
According to the indictment, authorities were tipped off to the illegal contributions by a co-host of a 2016 fundraiser held for Fortenberry's campaign.
The co-host — referred to in the indictment as "Individual H" — began cooperating with federal authorities, including agents with the FBI and IRS, in September 2016.
After the co-host told Fortenberry that $30,000 in campaign funds "probably did come from Gilbert Chagoury," the lawmaker then "knowingly and willfully falsified, concealed, and covered up by trick, scheme, and device material facts" information about the illegal campaign contributions, the indictment alleges.
The indictment further alleges that Fortenberry lied to investigators in various interviews about the contributions, even saying he would have been "horrified" to learn that the funds were contributed illegally by conduits to a foreign national.
Fortenberry, who was first elected in 2004, released a YouTube video Tuesday, in which he addressed the charges while he, his wife, and their dog could be seen sitting in a vintage Ford F-150 pickup truck in front of cornfields.
"I wanted to send you a video because we do have something hard to tell you ... About five-and-a-half years ago, a person from overseas illegally moved money to my campaign — I didn't know anything about this — and used some other Americans to do so," Fortenberry says in the video.
Saying that the people who moved the money to his campaign were "punished, thankfully," Fortenberry goes on to claim that, "about two-and-a-half-years-ago, I had a knock on my door ... they were FBI agents from California."
He continued: "They've accused me of lying to them and are charging me with this. We're shocked. We're stunned. I feel so personally betrayed. I thought we were trying to help. And so now we will have to fight."
The three felony charges in the indictment each carry a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison, according to the Department of Justice's announcement about the indictment. Fortenberry will appear for an arraignment Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.