Appeals court tosses ex-Nebraska Rep. Jeff Fortenberry’s conviction for lying to FBI

A federal appeals court on Tuesday threw out the conviction of former Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska for lying to the FBI about illegal contributions made to his reelection campaign, determining that he was tried in the wrong venue.  

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said in an opinion that Fortenberry should have been tried in Nebraska or Washington, D.C., where he made the alleged false statements to investigators and not in California, where his trial was held. 

“Fortenberry’s trial took place in a state where no charged crime was committed, and before a jury drawn from the vicinage of the federal agencies that investigated the defendant. The Constitution does not permit this. Fortenberry’s convictions are reversed so that he may be retried, if at all, in a proper venue,” U.S. District Judge James Donato wrote in a 23-page opinion

A jury in 2022 found the Republican guilty of lying to federal authorities about an illegal $30,000 contribution to his campaign by a foreign national at a 2016 fundraiser in Los Angeles. 

He was accused of lying during two interviews in 2019 with FBI agents who were looking into the illegal contributions and whether Fortenberry knew about them. The interviews occurred at Fortenberry’s home in Nebraska and his lawyer’s office in Washington. 

As such, Fortenberry was not charged with violating election law but rather with lying to investigators. Donato noted in the decision that the district court had found that this type of violation could be tried “not only where a false statement is made but also where it has an effect on a federal investigation,” but the appeals court said that “the Constitution plainly requires that a criminal defendant be tried in the place where the criminal conduct occurred.”

Fortenberry, who resigned from Congress after the conviction, was sentenced to two years of probation and a $25,000 fine. 

Fortenberry said in a statement that he and his wife were “gratified by the Ninth Circuit’s decision.” 

“Celeste and I would like to thank everyone who has stood by us and supported us with their kindness and friendship,” he said. 

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

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