Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., was charged Tuesday with lying to the FBI about contributions to his 2016 re-election campaign from a Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire.
A federal grand jury in Los Angeles indicted Fortenberry, 60, on one count of "scheming to falsify and conceal material facts" and two counts of lying to federal investigators, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California said in a statement Tuesday. Each charge carries a statutory maximum penalty of five years in federal prison.
Prosecutors allege that Fortenberry "repeatedly lied to and misled authorities" in a federal investigation into illegal campaign contributions made by Gilbert Chagoury, a Lebanese-Nigerian businessman who is banned by federal law from contributing to any U.S. elections. Chagoury is alleged to have arranged for a $30,000 contribution to Fortenberry's re-election campaign at a fundraising event in Los Angeles in 2016.
Knowingly making false statements to a federal agent during an investigation is a felony. It also is a felony to use conduits to disguise the source of campaign contributions, as prosecutors allege in this case.
Fortenberry, a nine-term Republican, announced in a YouTube video sent to supporters Monday evening that he expected to be indicted and proclaimed his innocence.
"We will fight these charges," he said in the video with his wife and their dog. "I did not lie to them. I told them what I knew. But we need your help."
Prosecutors said Chagoury entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. attorney's office in 2019 in which he admitted to having funneled about $180,000 to four political candidates. Chagoury agreed to pay a $1.8 million fine and cooperate with federal authorities.
An unnamed informant provided information about Fortenberry's contributions, prosecutors said, and learned over the course of the investigation that Fortenberry "knowingly and willfully falsified, concealed, and covered up by trick, scheme, and device material facts" about the illegal campaign contributions to federal officials.
Fortenberry is expected to appear for an arraignment Wednesday in federal court in Los Angeles.