“I wanted you to hear from me first,” reads the title of the strange video that
Nebraska representative Jeff Fortenberry recorded in his vintage F-150 and posted on Tuesday morning. While that language might normally be found in the preamble to a Dear John letter, for the nine-term Republican congressman, it was a way to address his pending indictment for allegedly lying to federal investigators about an instance over five years ago in which, he says, a “person from overseas illegally moved money to my campaign.”
By the afternoon, it was official: The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California announced on Twitter that Fortenberry had been indicted by a grand jury on one count of scheming to falsify and conceal material facts and two counts of making false statements to federal investigators looking into illegal contributions to his 2016 campaign.
According to the indictment, Fortenberry “repeatedly lied to and misled authorities” investigating contributions to his 2016 reelection campaign made by Gilbert Chagoury, a Nigerian construction billionaire who routed $30,000 to the campaign through other individuals at a fundraiser held in Los Angeles. (It is illegal for foreign nationals to contribute to U.S. election campaigns, for donors to obscure the foreign source of political contributions, and for recipients to willingly accept such money.) The host of the L.A. fundraiser told prosecutors that in 2018 he had informed the congressman that the sum “probably did come from Gilbert Chagoury.” Despite this, Fortenberry did not file an amended report with the Federal Elections Commission. The next year, when federal investigators asked him about the cash, Fortenberry “knowingly and willfully falsified, concealed, and covered up by trick, scheme, and device material facts,” per the indictment.
In his video previewing the indictment, Fortenberry denies wrongdoing and says he was “shocked” by the allegations. Each of the three charges he is facing carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. He will be arraigned on Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.