OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska expects to be charged with lying to the FBI while federal agents were investigating campaign contributions funneled to him from a Nigerian billionaire, the nine-term Republican said as he proclaimed his innocence and promised to fight the charges.
In a YouTube video posted Monday night, Fortenberry said he was “shocked” and “stunned” by the allegations and asked his supporters to rally behind him. Knowingly making false statements to a federal agent is a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.
“We will fight these charges,” he said in the video, filmed inside a pickup truck with his wife, Celeste, against a backdrop of corn. “I did not lie to them. I told them what I knew. But we need your help.”
The expected indictment stems from an FBI investigation into $180,000 in illegal campaign contributions from Gilbert Chagoury. The contributions were funneled through a group of Californians from 2012 through 2016 and went to four U.S. politicians, including $30,200 to Fortenberry in 2016 and $10,000 to then-Rep. Lee Terry, who represented the Omaha area in 2014.
The FBI office in Omaha referred questions Tuesday to the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Central District of California, which didn’t immediately return a phone message Tuesday morning.
Fortenberry’s campaign has said he didn’t know the donations, which the campaign received during a fundraiser in Los Angeles, originated with Chagoury.
Fortenberry, of Lincoln, said FBI agents from California came to his home about 2 1/2 years ago after he had been out dealing with a major storm that had just hit Nebraska. He said they questioned him about the contributions then and in a follow-up interview.
“I told them what I knew and what I understood,” he said.
Fortenberry represents the state’s 1st Congressional District, a Republican-leaning area that includes Lincoln, surrounding farmland and small towns in eastern Nebraska. His statement that he expected to be indicted was first reported by the Omaha World-Herald.
His wife, Celeste, said in a statement emailed to supporters that the anticipated indictment “has all the marks of being a political attack, a bogus charge manufactured to take him out.”
The FBI investigation began during the administration of President Donald Trump, a fellow Republican.
Associated Press writer Josh Funk contributed to this report.