Former Nebraska congressman Jeff Fortenberry was sentenced in federal court Tuesday to two years probation for lying to the FBI about a 2016 foreign campaign contribution.
Prosecutors alleged Fortenberry lied to federal agents multiple times about $30,000 in illegal campaign contributions he received from a Nigerian billionaire at a 2016 fundraiser in Los Angeles. Federal law prohibits donations from foreigners.
Federal judge Stanley Blumenfeld, Jr. said that Fortenberry made a “wrongful dishonest choice” that was “out of character.”
“Mr. Fortenberry turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the information he was provided by (Dr. Elias Ayoub) in June 2016,” Blumenfeld said.
Blumenfeld also sentenced Fortenberry to 320 hours of community service and a fine of $25,000.
Fortenberry was facing up to 15 years in prison for all three charges. When court convened in Los Angeles, the judge had sentence requests from both the prosecution and the defense.
The defense asked for one year probation and no fine, saying Fortenberry is over 60 and has spent all his money on his defense. Family, friends, even some of Nebraska’s elected officials wrote the judge on behalf of Fortenberry, asking he serve no time.
The prosecution asked for prison time as well as a $30,000 fine: the exact amount Fortenberry accepted and purged only after the FBI asked about it, according to prosecutors.
The U.S. Probation Office recommended three months in prison, plus probation and a fine.
Fortenberry is convicted of one count of scheming to deceive and falsifying material and two counts of lying to the FBI. The former congressman, who vowed he would fight the conviction, can now file an appeal.
“All I’ve ever wanted to do is serve my country and try to help people. I am grateful for over 20 years of public service, and I’m proud of my record of accomplishments for Nebraska and for America,” Fortenberry said in a statement.
“I am thankful Judge Blumenfeld took the time to learn about who I am and what I have done in my life. And I am grateful he recognized that ‘by all accounts’ I am a man of ‘exceptional character.’ Having said that, this is a case that never should have been brought; and certainly not in California. As the Judge explained today, I knew nothing about the conspiracy to illegally funnel money to my campaign. I was kept in the dark about it, just like other candidates who received similar illegal campaign contributions. I trusted the FBI agents and prosecutors from the Department of Justice. They took advantage of that trust.”
“I will be appealing this verdict,” added Fortenberry.
Fortenberry’s sentencing came as a special election was taking place to fill the rest of his term, which ends in January.