“As a foreign national, Chagoury was prohibited from making donations and contributions directly or indirectly in support of any candidate for federal elected office in the United States,” Fortenberry’s indictment states.
It is also illegal to disguise a donor’s identity through third-party contributions.
“After learning of illegal contributions to his campaign, the congressman repeatedly chose to conceal the violations of federal law to protect his job, his reputation and his close associates,” U.S. Attorney Tracy L. Wilkison said in a statement on Thursday. “The lies in this case threatened the integrity of the American electoral system and were designed to prevent investigators from learning the true source of campaign funds.”
An unnamed person who hosted the fundraiser began cooperating with law enforcement in September 2016. About two years later, the individual told the congressman during a phone call that the funds “probably did come from Gilbert Chagoury,” the indictment states.
But Fortenberry, who did not know the call was being recorded, did not file an amended Federal Election Commission report, according to court records. Instead, investigators said, he asked the individual to host another fundraiser for him.
In 2019, the congressman was interviewed twice by investigators about the contributions. According to the indictment, Fortenberry, who denied having knowledge of Chagoury’s involvement, “knowingly and willfully made materially false statements and representations to the FBI and IRS” about the illegal donations.
Fortenberry in October was charged with one count of scheming to falsify and conceal material facts and two counts of making false statements to federal investigators. Each of the counts carries a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison.
His sentencing is scheduled for June 28.
Fortenberry stepped down in October as the top Republican on the House appropriations subcommittee on agriculture. It is unclear whether the nine-term congressman, who was first elected in 2004, will resign from office.
This breaking news report will be updated.