Nebraska Rep. Jeff Fortenberry resigns after conviction for lying to FBI

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Republican Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska resigned from office Thursday night after he was found guilty of making false statements to the Department of Justice during an investigation into foreign money given to his campaign fund.

Fortenberry previously issued a brief, written statement announcing his retirement in the face of legal challenges.

“It has been my honor to serve with you in the United States House of Representatives,” Fortenberry wrote in the letter. “Due to the difficulties of my current circumstances, I can no longer effectively serve.”

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., speaks on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, March 27, 2019, in Washington.
(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik File)

“U.S. Representative Jeff Fortenberry, who represents Nebraska’s 1st Congressional District, was found guilty by a federal jury this evening of concealing information and making false statements to federal authorities who were investigating illegal contributions made by a foreign national to the congressman’s 2016 re-election campaign,” the Department of Justice announced in a release last week.

Fortenberry’s false statements arose from his testimony given to federal authorities investigating financial impropriety in his campaign. 

Dr. Elias Ayoub, who hosted Fortenberry in Los Angeles in 2016, confessed in a recorded 2018 call with the congressman that he distributed $30,000 to friends and relatives who attended the fundraiser so they could write checks to Fortenberry’s campaign. During the call in 2018, Ayoub had been cooperating with the FBI. 

Ayoub said the money probably came from foreign national Gilbert Chagoury, who admitted in 2019 to funneling $180,000 in illegal campaign contributions to four campaigns and agreed to pay a $1.8 million fine.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., arrives at the federal courthouse in Los Angeles, Wednesday, March 16, 2022. 
(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

In 2019, Fortenberry, unaware that the call was being recorded, told the FBI that he didn’t receive any foreign donations or so-called conduit contributions, where the money was distributed to straw donors.

“Fortenberry, 61, of Lincoln, Nebraska, who has served in Congress since 2005, was found guilty of one count of scheming to falsify and conceal material facts and two counts of making false statements to federal investigators,” the DOJ continued.

Each offense carries a maximum sentence of five years.

In an email, Fortenberry thanked his constituents for “entrusting me with the great responsibility of governing our nation.”

“When I first ran for Congress, I said that I would focus on our national security, economic security, and family security,” he wrote. “It is my sincerest hope that I have made a contribution to the betterment of America, and the wellbeing of our great state of Nebraska. Due to the difficulties of my current circumstances, I can no longer serve you effectively.”

Fortenberry’s announcement followed concerted pressure from political leaders in Nebraska and Washington for him to step down. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Friday urged Fortenberry to resign.

Fox News’s Kyle Morris contributed to this piece.

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