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Appeals court overturns former Nebraska Rep. Jeff Fortenberry’s conviction for lying to FBI

A federal appeals court on Tuesday threw out the conviction of former Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska for lying to the FBI about illegal contributions made to his re-election campaign, determining that he was tried in the wrong place.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said in an opinion that Fortenberry should have been tried in Nebraska or Washington, D.C., where he made the alleged false statements to investigators, not in California, where his trial was held .

“Fortenberry’s trial took place in a state where no crime was committed, and before a jury composed of members of the federal agencies that investigated the defendant. The Constitution does not permit it. Fortenberry’s convictions are vacated so that he may be retried, if at all, in an appropriate venue,” U.S. District Judge James Donato wrote in a 23-page opinion.

A jury in 2022 found the Republican guilty of lying to federal authorities over an illegal $30,000 contribution to his campaign by a foreign national at a 2016 fundraiser in Los Angeles.

He was accused of lying during two 2019 interviews with FBI agents who were investigating the illegal contributions and whether Fortenberry knew about them. The interviews took place at Fortenberry’s home in Nebraska and at his attorney’s office in Washington.

As such, Fortenberry was not accused of violating election law but rather of lying to investigators. Donato noted in the ruling that the district court had held that this type of violation could be adjudicated “not only when there is a misrepresentation, but also when it has an effect on a federal investigation,” but the appeals court stated that “the Constitution clearly requires that a defendant be tried in the place where the criminal conduct occurred.

Fortenberry, who resigned from Congress after this conviction, was sentenced to two years of probation and a fine of $25,000.

Fortenberry said in a statement that he and his wife were “pleased with the Ninth Circuit’s decision.”

“Céleste and I would like to thank everyone who supported us and supported us with their kindness and friendship,” he said.

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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