A federal jury found Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) guilty of three felonies for lying to and misleading the FBI about his knowledge of campaign donations from a foreign national. A deliberated for under three hours after a weeklong trial in Los Angeles. Prosecutors said Fortenberry lied to investigators when he denied knowing that Gilbert Chagoury, a wealthy Lebanese-Nigerian businessman who lives in France, donated $30,000 to his campaign through intermediaries at a 2016 fundraiser in California, Politico reports. Fortenberry’s defense argued that he might have been distracted or had a poor phone connection when the fundraiser's organizer, Elias Ayoub, told him about the funding in a 2018 phone call.
“Today’s conviction highlights the FBI’s commitment to holding elected officials accountable,” said FBI agent Kristi Johnson “The verdict emphasizes the importance of being truthful to law enforcement and demonstrates the government’s dedication to keeping the nation’s interests free from foreign influence through illegal campaign contributions.” At the time Ayoub made the call, the FBI had asked him to contact Fortenberry and record the conversation. Agents went to Fortenberry’s home in 2019 and secretly videotaped him speaking about his knowledge of the fundraising. He denied knowing about foreign money or straw donations, but said Ayoub said something concerning that led the lawmaker to cut the conversations short.