How a US Congressman got into trouble for receiving a campaign donation from Nigerians
Details of how a US congressman got into trouble for receiving a campaign donation from a Nigerian businessman of Lebanese descent have surfaced.
jeff fortenberry, representing Nebraska’s 1st congressional district, accepted an illegal $30,000 donation from Nigerian-Lebanese billionaire Gilbert Chagoury in violation of US Federal Election Law in 2016.
US federal law prohibits contributions, donations, expenditures, including independent expenditures, and disbursements solicited, directed, received, or made, directly or indirectly, from or by foreign nationals in connection with any federal, state, or local election.
Mr. Fortenberry was eventually found guilty by the US District Court for California, a development that forced him to resign his position in March while awaiting sentencing in June this year.
“It has been an honor to serve with you in the United States House of Representatives,” he said in the letter.
“Due to the difficulties of my current circumstances, I can no longer minister effectively,” he wrote.
Although felons are eligible to run for and serve in Congress, Mr. Fortenberry’s re-election bid was hit by his conviction and resignation.
Results of a joint federal criminal investigation showed that Mr. Fortenberry had received “illegal political campaign contributions.”
Investigating agencies included the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in Los Angeles, and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.
Their findings of the investigation are included in a court filing detailing the three charges filed against Mr Fortenberry on October 19, 2021.
The court document obtained by PREMIUM TIMES showed that Mr. Chagoury had made the $30,000 contribution to Mr. Fortenberry’s campaign “using other individuals as channels for defendant Jefferey Fortenberry’s 2016 congressional campaign.”
According to the court document, Mr. Chagoury Toufic gave the money to Baaklini (a channel) in cash.
Mr. Baaklini then handed the donation (US$30,000) in cash to Elias Ayoub, who held a political fundraiser for Mr. Fortenberry in 2016, who at the time did not know the origin of the money.
Mr Ayoub recruited people to donate to Mr Fortenberry’s campaign and compensated them with Mr Chagoury’s cash from Mr Baaklini. Mr. Ayoub made campaign contributions totaling US$30,200 to Mr. Fortenberry’s campaign fund.
However, in 2018, Mr. Fortenberry approached Mr. Ayoub for another fundraiser. During their conversation, Mr. Ayoub informed the former that the donation at the previous fundraiser was from Gilbert Chagoury.
When questioned by law enforcement, Mr Fortenberry denied having any knowledge of Mr Chagoury’s donation.
Unknown to Mr. Fortenberry, Mr. Ayoub was working with law enforcement to conduct a federal criminal investigation into Mr. Chagoury’s illegal campaign contributions, which were using others as channels for federal candidates in the United States
Mr Fortenberry, 61, argued at his trial that prosecutors knew he knew nothing about the post but directed a whistleblower to give him the information in a 10-minute phone call with intent to prosecute him.
According to the court documents, although Mr. Fortenberry was informed by Mr. Ayoub about the illegal donations, he did not file an amended report regarding the 2016 fundraiser with the FEC.
He also did not return or otherwise attempt to distribute the contributions from the 2016 fundraiser after learning from Mr Ayoub’s call in 2018 that the contributions were illegal. Rather, he only revealed the posts after law enforcement questioned him in July 2019.
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Mr. Fortenberry also incorrectly stated that all individuals who contributed to the 2016 fundraiser were publicly disclosed, despite knowing that his campaign had never disclosed the names of individuals who believed the true sources of conduit donations at the 2016 fundraiser was.
According to his lawyers, almost a year later, FBI agents used false pretenses to interview Mr. Fortenberry and charged him when he did not remember all the details from the interview.
The US Attorney General’s office indicted Mr. Fortenberry on three counts in September 2021.
The first count alleged that from or about June 4, 2018 to about July 18, 2019, Mr. Fortenberry knowingly and willfully through tricks, schemes and devices falsified, concealed and covered up material facts about the fundraiser.
The second count alleged that Mr Fortenberry “knowingly and intentionally made materially false statements and representations, knowing that such statements and representations were untrue” in an interview during the inquest on or about March 23, 2019.
Prosecutors alleged on the third count that Mr. Fortenberry knowingly and willfully made false statements and representations in an interview during the investigation on or about July 18, 2019, knowing that the statements and representations were untrue.
sentencing and resignation
A jury of the US District Court for the Central District of California convicted him on all three counts of forgery and concealment of material facts and making false statements; Each charge carries a possible five-year prison sentence and fines.
On March 31, Mr. Fortenberry resigned from his position.
The court has set a sentencing date of June 28, 2022.
Gilbert Chagoury, 75, is a Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire businessman believed to currently reside in Paris, France.
He paid $1.8 million to resolve allegations that he, with the assistance of others in the United States, provided approximately $180,000 toward donations to four different federal political candidates, including Jeff Fortenberry, at the US -Elections were used.
Mr. Chagoury, a foreign national prohibited by federal law from contributing to US elections, admitted that he intended to use those funds to donate to these candidates. He further admitted to making illegal conduit contributions – resulting in campaign donations being made on someone else’s behalf.
Pursuant to a deferred prosecution agreement with the government, Mr Chagoury accepted responsibility for his role and conduct in committing violations of federal election tax laws between June 2012 and March 2016 and agreed to cooperate with the government’s investigation. Mr Chagoury entered into the agreement on October 19, 2019 and paid the fine in December 2019.
Federal prosecutors entered into the deferred prosecution agreement considering, among other things, Mr. Chagoury’s unique support for the US government, his payment of a fine, acceptance of responsibility by Mr. Chagoury for his actions and his residency outside the United States.
Nigerian business interest
Mr. Chagoury is co-founder of the popular Eko Hotel and Suites in Lagos and Hotel Presidential among other Chagoury Group hotels in Nigeria.
The Chagoury Group is behind Eko Atlantic City, a fully reclaimed coastal town, also built in the upscale area of Victoria Island in Lagos, for the exclusive use of high net worth individuals and corporations, including some embassies.
Chiamaka Okafor is a reporter at Premium Times in partnership with report for the worldthat brings together local newsrooms with talented, up-and-coming journalists to cover under-reported issues around the globe.
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