Nebraska 1st-District Republican Congressman Jeff Fortenberry was arraigned yesterday in federal court in Los Angeles and entered a Not Guilty plea to charges he lied to federal agents who were investigating illegal contributions to his campaign.
Fortenberry appeared via an online video-chatting service on one count of falsifying and concealing material facts and 2 counts of making false statements to investigators.
Prosecutors did not ask that the 9-term Republican from Lincoln be detained, but did ask for and were granted a $50,000 unsecured bond rather than releasing Fortenberry on just his promise to return to court whenever asked.
Pre-trial conditions also included barring him from having any contact with prosecution witnesses, one of which is a top Fortenberry aide – longtime chief of state William “Reyn” Archer III.
The congressman’s attorney said he would move to suppress comments Fortenberry made to investigators because he was misled and to ask the lead prosecutors be removed because the defense plans to call him as a witness.
A jury trial has been set for Dec 14 in Los Angeles, but the defense is challenging the site, saying it isn’t the correct venue.
The case follows an FBI investigation into $180,000 in campaign contributions made by foreign billionaire Gilbert Chagoury, including over $30,000 given to Fortenberry through other individuals at a fundraiser in Los Angeles.
Chagoury pleaded guilty 2 years ago to making illegal contributions to Fortenberry, Omaha Congressman Lee Terry, and 2 other candidates. He agreed to pay a $1.8 million fine and cooperate with federal authorities.