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Court overturns conviction of former Nebraska U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry for lying to federal authorities

LOS ANGELES (AP) — An appeals court Tuesday overturned a 2022 federal conviction against former Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraskaruling that he should not have been tried in Los Angeles.

Fortenberry was convicted in March 2022 of lying to federal authorities about a illegal $30,000 contribution to his campaign of a foreign billionaire at a fundraiser in Los Angeles in 2016. He resigned his seat a few days later following pressure from congressional leaders and Nebraska’s Republican governor.

In its ruling Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the trial venue, Los Angeles, was inappropriate because Fortenberry made false statements during interviews with federal agents at his home in Lincoln, Nebraska, and at his lawyer’s office in Washington.

“Fortenberry’s convictions are vacated so that he may be retried, if appropriate, in an appropriate venue,” the decision states.

A federal jury in Los Angeles found the Republican guilty of nine warrants for withholding information and two counts of making false statements to authorities. He vowed to appeal from the courthouse steps.

Fortenberry and his wife, Celeste Fortenberry, welcomed the court’s decision.

“We are pleased with the Ninth Circuit’s decision,” Jeff Fortenberry said in a statement. “Céleste and I would like to thank everyone who supported us and supported us with their kindness and friendship.”

Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles, noted that the appeals court left the way open for future proceedings against Fortenberry.

“The ruling does not preclude a retrial on charges that Fortenberry, then a congressman, made multiple false statements to federal agents,” Mrozek said in a statement. “We are evaluating potential next steps before deciding how best to move forward.” »

Patricia Hartman, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, declined to comment on the ruling’s potential impact on federal prosecutors in Washington.

“We cannot comment on matters for which no charges have been filed,” she said in an email Tuesday.

A spokesperson for the U.S. attorney’s office in Nebraska did not immediately respond to a phone message.

Fortenberry was indicted after denying to the FBI that he knew he had received illicit funds from Gilbert Chagoury, a Nigerian billionaire of Lebanese origin.

At trial, prosecutors presented recorded telephone conversations in which Fortenberry was repeatedly warned that the contributions came from Gilbert Chagoury, a Nigerian billionaire of Lebanese origin. Donations were funneled through three straw men during the 2016 fundraiser in Los Angeles.

The case stems from an FBI investigation into $180,000 in illegal contributions to four campaigns by Chagoury, who was living in Paris at the time. Chagoury admitted to the crime in 2019 and agreed to pay a $1.8 million fine.

It was the first trial of a sitting member of Congress since Rep. Jim Traficant, Democrat of Ohio, was convicted of corruption and other criminal charges in 2002.

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