A Nebraska congressman just got convicted on federal criminal charges from a three-count indictment accusing him of taking an illegal foreign campaign donation, then lying to the FBI to cover it up, twice.
Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) isn’t a household name for anything he’s done since 2005 representing eastern Nebraska outside of Omaha, but his criminal campaign finance violations did significantly raise his profile after a bizarre video in his 1963 pickup truck with his wife and dog where he tried to downplay his looming arrest. An image of that video is our cover photo for this story.
The House Republican took a $30,000 donation from Nigerian-Lebanese billionaire Gilbert Chagoury in early 2016. Prosecutors convicted him of that crime. But the reason the Nebraska Republican is facing 15 years in prison today is because of his reaction upon learning that taking the donor’s big check was against the law.
“Jeff Fortenberry lied to federal agents in order to cover up illegal contributions to his re-election campaign,” said IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Ryan L. Korner in a Department of Justice press release celebrating their win in court. “The guilty verdict today shows that no one is above the law, and IRS-CI and our law enforcement partners will continue to hold our public servants accountable.”
In fact, agents gave Fortenberry two chances to come clean about his crimes with in-person interviews which they probably could’ve used to secure a conviction at trial.
Instead, the Paris-based Chagoury took a plea deal three years ago, paying a $1.8 million fine for donating $180,000 to four different candidates in exchange for a deferred prosecution. That’s a form of pre-trial probation where the defendant admits to all charges and promises to stop breaking the law for a term following entry into the agreement and accepting all responsibility for the crime. Another of the billionaire’s associates paid a $1.7 million fine for helping carry out the unlawful foreign donation scheme.
With his conviction at trial, Nebraska’s longest-serving Congressman joins a not-very-distinguished list of convicted House Republicans in the last half-dozen years. Former Reps. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) and Chris Collins (R-NY) were convicted respectively for using campaign funds to carry out multiple extramarital affairs and for conducting an insider trading scam on the White House lawn. The twice-impeached ex-president pardoned the pair last year alongside mass-murderers and several other former House Republican criminals like ex-Reps. Steve Stockman (R-IL) and Rick Renzi (R-AZ). The former committed money laundering and the latter engaged in a fraud and extortion racket.
The longest-serving Republican Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-IL) is a convicted child molester who got caught violating the Patriot Act to give hush-money payments to his victims and was convicted right before the 2016 election. For unknown reasons, Trump did not pardon Hastert.
Rep. Fortenberry isn’t likely to be so lucky with President Joe Biden in office.
President Biden has already declared he won’t pardon any crimes if Donald Trump is charged and convicted for his election scams, which signals strongly that Fortenberry should not raise his expectations.
To date, Biden has not issued any pardons.
“Today’s conviction highlights the FBI’s commitment to holding elected officials accountable,” said Kristi Johnson, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. “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.”
is the Executive Editor of Occupy Democrats and published author. His new Meet the Candidates 2020 book series is distributed by Simon and Schuster. He's also mortgage broker, community activist and radio personality in Miami, Florida., as well as the producer of the Dworkin Report podcast. Grant is also an occasional contributor to Raw Story, Alternet, and the DC Report, and an unpaid senior advisor to the Democratic Coalition and a Director of Sunshine Agenda Inc. a government transparency nonprofit organization.