Government pushes back on Fortenberry request to dismiss charges

Prosecutors: ‘Breathless hyperbole’ not supported by the law

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., listens to Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., speak during a House Appropriations Committee markup of FY2021 appropriations for Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies; and Legislative Branch in the Capitol in Washington on Friday, July 10, 2020. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., listens to Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., speak during a House Appropriations Committee markup of FY2021 appropriations for Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies; and Legislative Branch in the Capitol in Washington on Friday, July 10, 2020. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call)
Posted November 10, 2021 at 2:15pm

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry’s argument to dismiss criminal charges he faces — that his trial should not take place in California — is not supported by “case law nor common sense,” federal prosecutors said in response to the Nebraska Republican’s motion.

Fortenberry is charged with lying to federal investigators and concealing material facts when he was questioned about his campaign receiving illegal foreign contributions from Gilbert Chagoury, a Nigerian billionaire. Chagoury, through intermediaries, funneled $30,000 to Fortenberry’s reelection campaign in 2016 at a Los Angeles fundraiser, according to the indictment. 

In a Nov. 2 filing, lawyers for Fortenberry argued that he should not be tried in the Central District of California because the alleged false statements he made took place in Nebraska and Washington, D.C., not California.

“The government’s attempt to drag Congressman Fortenberry across the country to face a jury of Californians for these alleged offenses represents a gross abuse of power by the Department of Justice,” John Littrell, a lawyer for Fortenberry wrote.

Federal prosecutors in their response — dated Nov. 9 — sought to counter Fortenberry’s complaint that the Department of Justice is abusing its power by requiring him to stand trial in California.

“Neither the case law nor common sense support his breathless hyperbole,”  assistant U.S. attorneys Susan Har and Mack Jenkins wrote.

The government said California is the proper venue for Fortenberry’s trial for several reasons. 

Since 2015, the FBI, IRS and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Central District of California have been investigating people, such as Chagoury, who were making illegal campaign contributions to U.S. politicians, including to Fortenberry. 

Fortenberry received the illegal money from a subject of the California investigation in Los Angeles, and pushed to arrange for another fundraiser in the area with the subjects of the investigation after discussing the illegal nature of the contributions with one of the people being investigated, prosecutors wrote.

Further, Fortenberry “repeatedly and materially lied to and misled” Los Angeles federal agents and prosecutors about the real source of the contributions from Fortenberry’s fundraiser in Los Angeles, which was a “central focus” of the California-based investigation, the U.S. attorneys argue.

The Central District of California is appropriate, the prosecutors stated, because that is where Fortenberry “directed his criminal scheme and false statements — towards CDCA investigators and the CDCA Investigation — and where the effects and harm of defendant’s obstructive conduct could be and were felt.” They added that the lawmaker’s criminal conduct continued into California “where his false statements were received, reviewed, discussed, and acted upon by the affected investigative agencies.”

A spokesperson for Fortenberry did not comment on the government’s reply. 

Fortenberry has filed additional motions to dismiss the charges.

“The government’s investigation revealed that Congressman Fortenberry was unaware of any illegal foreign or conduit contributions to his 2016 campaign. With no basis to charge the Congressman with a crime, the government instead concocted one,” Littrell wrote. “This was a setup.”