Denver Newsroom, March 25, 2022 / 5:00 p.m. (CNA).
US Congressman Jeff Fortenberry said he would appeal his conviction on Thursday on three counts of lying to federal officials during their investigation into illegal donations to his campaign from a wealthy non-US citizen.
While prosecutors said the sentencing was warranted, the congressman expressed concern that the process was not fair and continues to deny wrongdoing.
“After learning of illegal contributions to his campaign, the congressman repeatedly chose to cover up violations of federal law to protect his work, reputation and close associates,” said U.S. Attorney Tracy L. Wilkison on March 24. “The lies in this case threatened the integrity of the US electoral system and were intended to prevent investigators from learning the true source of campaign funds.
The jury trial lasted about a week. Jury deliberations lasted approximately two hours.
“We always thought it would be difficult to have a fair process here,” Fortenberry told reporters March 24. “So this call starts immediately.”
“We have always had concerns about the fairness of the process,” he said, thanking his family and friends for their support.
Fortenberry is currently serving his ninth term in the United States House of Representatives and is actively campaigning for re-election. He is a Catholic and a Republican who has been outspoken on pro-life issues and the persecution of Christians in the Middle East.
Fortenberry was found guilty of one count of “conspiracy to falsify and conceal material facts” and two counts of making false statements to federal investigators, the U.S. district attorney’s office said Thursday. Central California. Each count carries a maximum sentence of five years in federal prison. Judgment is scheduled for June 28.
The case involved Fortenberry’s comments to federal investigators during two interviews in 2019 regarding their investigation into illegal campaign contributions in 2016.
Gilbert Chagoury, a Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire, has made a number of illegal contributions to four federal campaigns, according to the OpenSecrets website.
As a foreign national, Chagoury is barred from contributing to US elections. However, he used American citizens as conduits for his money to reach campaigns and political groups, including Fortenberry’s campaign, as well as those of congressional candidates Lee Terry and Darrell Issa, and Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign.
Prosecutors presented evidence that Chagoury donated $30,000 to Fortenberry’s campaign through “straw donors” at a fundraiser in Los Angeles. A co-organizer of this fundraiser began cooperating with federal authorities and notified FBI and IRS investigators of the illegal contributions.
Investigators sought to determine Fortenberry’s knowledge and involvement in these contributions. They said their investigation revealed the congressman learned of the illegal contributions after the fact, but did not file an amended report with the Federal Election Commission.
During two interviews in March 2019 and July 2019, investigators said, Fortenberry made statements that violated the law.
Prosecutors cited a secretly taped phone call between Fortenberry and the fundraiser’s co-organizer in which the co-organizer said Chagoury likely funded the contributions.
Defense attorneys argued that an overzealous prosecution was behind the case and said investigators sought to provide Fortenberry with information about the donation through the co-organizer of the fundraiser, reports the Washington Post. They said Fortenberry’s call with the relevant witness was not memorable and the congressman may have been distracted or unable to hear due to poor phone reception.
In an October YouTube video, Fortenberry denied lying to investigators. He said he let FBI investigators into his home for the 2019 interviews and spoke to them about cooperating with them.
“We thought we were trying to help,” he said in the video last year.
Kristi Johnson, deputy director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office, said Thursday that the sentencing “underscores the FBI’s commitment to holding elected officials accountable.”
“The verdict underscores the importance of being honest with law enforcement and demonstrates the government’s commitment to protecting the nation’s interests from foreign influence through illegal campaign contributions,” she said. declared.
House Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, reacted to the verdict.
“When someone is convicted, it’s time to resign,” McCarthy said, according to The Wall Street Journal. “He had his day in court. I think if he wants to appeal, he can do so as a private citizen.
Chagoury paid a $1.8 million fine to resolve allegations that he gave about $180,000 to individuals in the United States to contribute to four political campaigns, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of Washington said. California.
According to the prosecutor’s office, Chagoury was helped by Toufic Joseph Baaklini to make the illegal contributions. Like Chagoury, Baaklini also reached a stay of proceedings agreement. He paid a $90,000 fine and agreed to cooperate with investigators.
Both Fortenberry and Chagoury have ties to the Washington, DC-based group In Defense of Christians. Baaklini stepped down as chairman and chairman of the group’s board in October 2021.
In Defense of Christians said in October 2021 that “any contributions made by or through Mr. Baaklini to members of Congress or candidates were made in a personal capacity.”
In Defense of Christians was founded in 2014 and has advocated for policies to protect Christian minorities in the Middle East, such as congressional resolutions recognizing the genocide of Christians by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and supporting the emergency aid to Christian victims of the genocide. The group has also advocated for policies to support stability in Lebanon and resolutions recognizing the Armenian Genocide.
One of the group’s highlights was a gala dinner in 2014 at which more than 1,200 attendees included patriarchs and bishops from more than a dozen churches in Middle Eastern countries.
Fortenberry was recognized by the group for his work in 2015 and 2016 to help pass a congressional resolution recognizing the genocide of Iraqi Christians at the hands of the Islamic State. The congressman also served as co-chair of the virtual In Defense of Christians 2020 summit.
Chagoury was previously a major Clinton Foundation donor. His philanthropic causes include education and health care in Lebanon. In 2014, he helped organize and fund the inaugural In Defense of Christians summit in Washington, DC, according to his website.
Chagoury also served as ambassador to the Vatican for the Caribbean island nation of Saint Lucia. He has received several honors from the Vatican.
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