Jeff Fortenberry, a former Republican member of Congress from Nebraska, was sentenced on Tuesday to two years of probation after he was convicted in a Los Angeles federal court of lying to authorities who were investigating illegal contributions to his 2016 re-election campaign, prosecutors said.
Mr. Fortenberry, 61, was also ordered to pay a $25,000 fine and to perform 320 hours of community service, the U.S. attorney’s office for the Central District of California announced on Tuesday.
In court on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Stanley Blumenfeld Jr. said that Mr. Fortenberry “turned a blind and a deaf ear” to information that a foreign national funded $30,000 in contributions made at a fund-raiser in Los Angeles, prosecutors said.
A lawyer for Mr. Fortenberry, John L. Littrell, said on Tuesday that the judge had “showed grace in his sentencing decision.” Prosecutors had been arguing for a sentence of six months in prison.
“We are grateful that the judge sees Jeff Fortenberry for who he is, a kind statesman who served his country with dignity,” Mr. Littrell said.
U.S. Attorney Tracy L. Wilkison said in a statement on Tuesday that Mr. Fortenberry was a career politician who “made a calculated decision to lie repeatedly and mislead federal investigators in a clear violation of his oath of office.”
Mack Jenkins, the assistant U.S. attorney who was the lead prosecutor for the case, said that while the judge’s sentence credited the defendant’s record of public service, it “also highlighted his view that our successful prosecution will deter other federal officials from choosing the same unlawful path” as the defendant.
In March, Mr. Fortenberry announced that he was resigning from Congress after he was convicted on three felony counts in a federal court in Los Angeles, including two counts of making false statements and one count of falsifying and concealing material facts.
In a March letter to colleagues, he said he planned to step down from Congress on March 31.
“It has been my honor to serve with you in the United States House of Representatives,” Mr. Fortenberry wrote in the letter. “Due to the difficulties of my current circumstances, I can no longer effectively serve.”
Leaders in both parties, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the minority leader, had called for his resignation in the aftermath of the verdict.
In a newsletter sent to his constituents, Mr. Fortenberry wrote: “It is my sincerest hope that I have made a contribution to the betterment of America and the well-being of our great state of Nebraska.”
Mr. Fortenberry was first elected to Congress in 2004. Before resigning, he had stepped down from committee positions such as his seat on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, under Republican conference rules for members facing federal indictments.
The charges against Mr. Fortenberry came after he denied having knowledge that $30,000 in donations his campaign had received at a 2016 fund-raiser in Los Angeles came from Gilbert Chagoury, a Lebanese Nigerian billionaire, who had been accused of conspiring to make illegal donations to American politicians. (Foreign citizens cannot donate to American election campaigns, and Mr. Chagoury has since paid a $1.8 million fine after a deal with the U.S. government.)
Federal investigators first interviewed Mr. Fortenberry in 2019 during an inquiry into Mr. Chagoury’s donations to multiple candidates between 2012 and 2016. Mr. Fortenberry was indicted in October and he was convicted this week after a weeklong trial.
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