A recent ruling by a federal appeals court has nullified the guilty verdict of ex-Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) pertaining to his misleading statements to the FBI about an unauthorized campaign donation. Judges stated that an incorrect location had been chosen for the trial.
Fortenberry, who previously served as a Republican representative, was found guilty in Los Angeles in 2022 for presenting untruthful information during discussions in Washington, D.C., and Nebraska.
Subsequent to these events, Fortenberry decided to give up his congressional position. As part of his sentence, he was assigned two years of probation, a financial penalty of $25,000, and a directive to complete 320 hours of community service. However, the recent ruling by the appeals court has negated the sentence, raising the possibility that Fortenberry may face another trial in the future.
In the words of U.S. District Judge James Donato, a member of the appeals court team, ‘Fortenberry’s trial occurred in a state where none of the offenses described in the charges took place. Moreover, the jury was composed of individuals from the vicinity of the federal departments that carried out the investigation into the accused.’
Judge Donato criticized the unconstitutional nature of the trial, stating that Fortenberry’s conviction cannot stand as a result. He suggested the possibility of a retrial but emphasized that it should occur in an appropriate jurisdiction. The details of this ruling were documented in a 23-page opinion.
Fortenberry came under scrutiny following an interview connected to a probe into a donation of $30,200 that was made to his political campaign by a businessman from Nigeria during a California-based fundraising event in 2016. According to U.S. federal law, it is illegal for any foreign nationals to contribute to the campaign of any elected official at local, state, or federal levels.
However, the charges laid against Fortenberry were not directly linked to the illicit campaign donation. Instead, he was accused of two instances of providing false information and a count of deceptively hiding pertinent details. Despite these charges, Fortenberry maintained to FBI investigators that he had no knowledge of receiving any illegal financial support for his campaign.
But court documents present a different narrative. A recorded Phone conversation revealed that a cooperative informant had previously alluded to Fortenberry that the dubious donation most likely came from the Nigerian benefactor. The federal district trial judge decided to proceed with the case in California, emphasizing that the violation of presenting false statements could occur not only in the location where those falsehoods were uttered but also where they could interfere with a federal inquiry.
The investigation into the source of the campaign donation was carried out by the FBI’s Los Angeles field office. However, Judge Donato, who was appointed by former President Obama, highlighted in his analysis that there’s no constitutional, textual, or historical basis for an effect-oriented test to determine the venue of a Section 1001 offense.
The panel overseeing this decision also included Circuit Judges Gabriel Sanchez and Salvador Mendoza Jr., both appointees of current President Biden. This detail was brought to light in a report by The Hill.
Following the Ninth Circuit’s ruling, Fortenberry expressed his satisfaction with the outcome. In a formal statement made post the nullification of his conviction, he said, ‘Celeste and I are heartened by the decision handed down by the Ninth Circuit. We’d like to express our gratitude to everyone who has continued to support us with their warmth and companionship throughout this challenging period.’