The congressman, who was elected in 2004, said in a video released Monday evening that he anticipated the indictment. His wife, Celeste, in a letter to supporters before the indictment was announced, labeled it a “false accusation.”
Fortenberry, 60, served on the Lincoln City Council for four years before winning an open House seat in 2004 on a conservative record of opposition to abortion rights and same-sex marriage. He has easily won reelection in the Republican-leaning district.
The federal grand jury charged Fortenberry with 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 U.S. attorney’s office for the Central District of California.
The charges center on a $30,200 donation made by Gilbert Chagoury, a wealthy Nigerian business executive of Lebanese descent, in January 2016 “using other individuals as conduits,” according to the indictment.
In the video released Monday night, Fortenberry said he “didn’t know anything about” the illegal foreign donation. He described his conversations with FBI agents when they knocked on his door “about two and a half years ago.”
“I told them what I knew and what I understood,” Fortenberry said in the video. “They’ve accused me of lying to them and are charging me with this. We’re shocked. We’re stunned. I feel so personally betrayed. We thought we were trying to help. And so now, we will have to fight.”
Celeste Fortenberry said her husband is known for his honesty and integrity. “Jeff did not lie to the FBI. This has all the marks of being a political attack, a bogus charge manufactured to take him out,” she wrote.
Most recently, former representatives Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) and Duncan D. Hunter (R-Calif.) were indicted while in office and forced to resign. The two, who were early and avid supporters of former president Donald Trump, both won pardons from Trump in the closing weeks of his administration, in December 2020.
Hunter, who prosecutors alleged used hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign funds to pay for family vacations and theater tickets and even to facilitate extramarital affairs, had been facing an 11-month federal prison sentence. He pleaded guilty in 2019 to misusing campaign funds. Hunter notably won reelection while under indictment, only to later admit wrongdoing and resign.
Collins had been serving a 26-month sentence for an insider-trading scheme and lying to the FBI. He had pleaded guilty in the case.