On Tuesday, Jeffrey Fortenberry, the former U.S. Representative from Nebraska, successfully appealed to overturn his criminal conviction.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Mr. Fortenberry should not have been subjected to trial in Los Angeles. This decision was based on the argument that his campaign allegedly received $30,000 from Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire Gilbert Chagoury, and the trial’s location was influenced merely by the fact that federal agents who later interviewed him about the money worked in Los Angeles.
In the opinion authored by Judge James Donato for a three-judge panel, it was emphasized that the U.S. Department of Justice has the option to pursue a new trial in Nebraska or the District of Columbia. This is where Mr. Fortenberry denied any knowledge of illegal contributions, presenting an opportunity for the legal proceedings to take place in a more contextually relevant jurisdiction.
“Mr. Fortenberry’s trial took place in a state where no charged crime was committed, and before a jury drawn from the vicinage of the federal agencies that investigated the defendant,” Judge Donato wrote in the ruling. “The Constitution does not permit this. Fortenberry’s convictions are reversed so that he may be retried, if at all, in a proper venue.”
“We are gratified by the Ninth Circuit’s decision. Celeste and I would like to thank everyone who has stood by us and supported us with their kindness and friendship,” he said in a statement obtained by The Epoch Times.
The possibility of retrying this case has not been ruled out by the U.S. attorney’s office.
“The ruling does not preclude a retrial on the charges that then-Congressman Fortenberry made multiple false statements to federal agents. We are evaluating potential next steps before deciding how best to move forward,” Thom Mrozek, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles, told The Epoch Times.
Jeffrey Fortenberry, who initially entered the political arena by being elected to represent Nebraska’s 1st Congressional District in 2004, completed nine consecutive terms, serving from 2005 to 2022. His legal troubles stem from an investigation related to purported illegal contributions to his 2016 re-election campaign, allegedly facilitated by a foreign national using conduit donors. Prosecutors contended that Gilbert Chagoury contributed $30,000 through “straw donors” who attended a campaign fundraiser for Fortenberry in Los Angeles. Federal law explicitly prohibits foreign nationals from making contributions to campaigns for federal, state, and local offices.
The case, initiated in 2015 by the FBI and several other federal agencies, included interviews with Mr. Fortenberry at his residence in Lincoln, Nebraska, as well as at his lawyer’s office in the District of Columbia. Notably, the charges did not pertain to the violation of federal election laws; instead, he faced charges related to making false statements, a violation of Section 1001 of the federal criminal code. Despite the intricacies of the case, the U.S. attorney’s office is contemplating the option of pursuing a retrial.