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Federal prosecutors reissue criminal charges against ex-Rep. Jeff Fortenberry

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Federal prosecutors have charged former Rep. Jeff Fortenberry in Washington for allegedly lying to investigators in connection with a campaign finance probe of a foreign billionaire’s political contributions.

Fortenberry (R-Neb.) was convicted of the same charges by a jury in Los Angeles in 2022, but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the conviction, determining that the case should have been brought in either the then-lawmaker’s Nebraska district or in Washington. It was unclear until Thursday whether prosecutors would seek to reissue the charges.

Fortenberry resigned from Congress following his conviction and was sentenced to probation and community service.

The former representative was convicted after a seven-day trial on charges that he lied to the FBI and concealed evidence as they pursued questions about whether Nigerian billionaire Gilbert Chagoury had made illicit contributions to U.S. candidates, including Fortenberry, by masking them through “straw donors.” Prosecutors said some of that cash was delivered by donors who attended a 2016 Fortenberry fundraiser in Los Angeles, which is why prosecutors brought the charges there. Foreign nationals are prohibited by federal law from contributing to candidates for federal office.

Chagoury admitted making the improper donations in 2019 and paid a $1.8 million fine. The host of Fortenberry’s fundraiser also cooperated with the FBI, which later probed whether Fortenberry was aware of the illegal contributions. Though the fundraiser host told Fortenberry in 2018 about the illegal contributions from Chagoury, Fortenberry never took steps to disclose the issue to the Federal Elections Commission, prosecutors say. Instead, they say he misled the FBI about what he had learned and denied receiving any donations from a foreign source.

Fortenberry defended against the charges by arguing that he fully cooperated with government investigators and was charged for forgetting the details of a year-old conversation when he told the FBI he wasn’t aware of the foreign contributions. He has also complained about the FBI’s tactics, including what he described as a “ruse” undertaken by one investigator to convince him to speak with agents.

Chad Kolton, a Fortenberry spokesperson, said the forthcoming charges are a reflection of an “overzealous” Justice Department that seems “intent on dragging Jeff Fortenberry around the country to face one trial after another until it can secure a conviction that actually holds up.”

“Federal prosecutors should have better things to do than force a distinguished former public servant to incur massive additional legal costs despite already having resigned his office and performed his sentence from a conviction that was ultimately overturned,” Kolton said.

Fortenberry was first elected in 2004 and represented a district in eastern Nebraska until his 2022 conviction.