Court Reverses Ex-Congressman's Conviction

Finds Jeff Fortenberry should not have been tried in California
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 27, 2023 2:00 AM CST
Court Reverses Ex-Congressman's Conviction
US Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., right, and wife, Celeste, arrive at the federal courthouse for his trial in Los Angeles, Wednesday, March 16, 2022.   (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

An appellate court on Tuesday reversed a 2022 federal conviction against former Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska, ruling that he should not have been tried in Los Angeles, the AP reports. Fortenberry was convicted in March 2022 on charges that he lied to federal authorities about an illegal $30,000 contribution to his campaign from a foreign billionaire at a 2016 Los Angeles fundraiser. He resigned his seat days later following pressure from congressional leaders and Nebraska's GOP governor. In its Tuesday ruling, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit wrote that the trial venue of Los Angeles was improper because Fortenberry made the false statements during interviews with federal agents at his home in Lincoln, Nebraska, and in his lawyer's office in Washington.

"Fortenberry's convictions are reversed so that he may be retried, if at all, in a proper venue," the decision said. A federal jury in Los Angeles found the nine-term Republican guilty of concealing information and two counts of making false statements to authorities. He vowed to appeal from the courthouse steps. Fortenberry and his wife, Celeste Fortenberry, praised the court's decision. "We are gratified by the Ninth Circuit's decision," Jeff Fortenberry said in a statement. "Celeste and I would like to thank everyone who has stood by us and supported us with their kindness and friendship." Fortenberry's was the first trial of a sitting congressman since Rep. Jim Traficant, D-Ohio, was convicted of bribery and other felony charges in 2002.

Thom Mrozek, a spokesperson for the US Attorney's Office in Los Angeles, noted that the appellate court left a path open for future proceedings against Fortenberry. "The ruling does not preclude a retrial on the charges that then-Congressman Fortenberry 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." Fortenberry was charged after denying to the FBI that he was aware he had received illicit funds from Gilbert Chagoury, a Nigerian billionaire of Lebanese descent. At trial, prosecutors presented recorded phone conversations in which Fortenberry was repeatedly warned that the contributions came from Chagoury. The donations were funneled through three strawmen at the 2016 fundraiser in Los Angeles.

(More appeals court stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.