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In memo, prosecutors allege Fortenberry met twice with source of illegal campaign donations

Jeff Fortenberry
Posted at 6:25 PM, Feb 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-17 19:25:33-05

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — The U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California filed a trial memorandum on Tuesday outlining its case against Nebraska Congressman Jeff Fortenberry.

The memo reveals, among other details, that Fortenberry met twice — once in Paris and once in Washington D.C. — with the foreign national accused of illegally funneling money to his campaign. It also outlines, in more detail, recorded phone calls between a cooperating witness and the congressman.

Fortenberry was indicted in a California federal court on October 19, 2021 on three counts related to illegal campaign donations. The charges include two counts of making false statements to a government agency and one count of falsifying or concealing material facts from investigators.

In the trial memorandum, prosecutors allege that Fortenberry knowingly accepted campaign donations from a foreign national, which is illegal.

The memorandum explains that federal agencies were investigating Gilbert Chagoury, a Nigerian-born billionaire of Lebanese descent. He was a financial supporter of a nonprofit called In Defense of Christians (IDC). Its mission was also championed by Fortenberry in Congress.

Another key player in the U.S. Attorney’s memo is Toufic Baaklini, a U.S. citizen who founded IDC and served, prosecutors say, as a go-between for Chagoury and his financial and political interests in the United States.

The government also refers to “Individual H.” This person cooperated with investigators, including speaking with Fortenberry over the phone while the call was recorded unbeknownst to the congressman.

The memo, in which Fortenberry is referred to as “defendant,” states: “Through the Federal Investigation, investigators learned that Chagoury had funneled his money to the campaigns of U.S. political candidates whom Chagoury believed would be supportive to his cause. The Federal Investigation ultimately revealed that from 2012 to 2016, Chagoury provided approximately $180,000 in illegal political contributions to four political candidates — including defendant — with the assistance of Baaklini, Individual H, and others.”

Prosecutors say Fortenberry became acquainted with Chagoury through Baakalini based on “their shared commitment to IDC and the 'cause,' and the two personally met twice: once in Washington D.C. and once in Paris. Defendant would periodically pass on his regards to Chagoury through Baaklini.”

It was during a 2016 Los Angeles fundraiser that federal investigators say Chagoury allegedly funneled money to Fortenberry’s campaign through other donors.

Government witnesses, according to the memo, include Fortenberry’s fundraising consultant who says she warned the congressman of a risk of illegal “foreign and conduit contributions.”

The 2016 Los Angeles event raised $36,000 for Fortenberry, and prosecutors say that approximately $30,200 was contributed by six people who were allegedly recruited by Individual H and reimbursed with Chagoury’s money.

Individual H began cooperating with the FBI after the 2016 fundraiser, according to the memo. By 2018, the government alleges that Fortenberry reached out to Individual H and those phone conversations were recorded at the direction of the FBI.

“During that nine-minute call, Individual H repeatedly discussed with defendant that Baaklini had given Individual H $30,000 cash to contribute to the 2016 Fundraiser, which Individual H distributed to conduit donors, and that Chagoury was probably the ultimate source of the money,” reads the memo.

Prosecutors allege that Fortenberry didn’t seem surprised when Individual H introduced the revelation that the contributions were probably illegal.

“Instead, defendant continued to push for the second fundraiser, explaining that he hoped to ‘have some continuation of the fine generosity’ that he had received from the first (illicitly funded) fundraiser. When Individual H advised defendant that the money ‘probably did come from Gilbert Chagoury because he was so grateful for [defendant’s] support [for] the cause,’ defendant responded with a summary of the efforts he had been making in Congress for ‘the cause’ and praised Baaklini for his respective efforts to ‘elevate the issue,’ before circling back to possible dates for the fundraising event.”

Prosecutors are arguing that Fortenberry did not amend his financial disclosures to the Federal Election Commission after being made aware that Chagoury was a likely source of the campaign contributions in 2016. The government is also alleging that Fortenberry made false statements to investigators about receiving the money from Chagoury, that he downplayed how well he knew Chagoury and that he made false claims about his phone conversation with Individual H.

Fortenberry’s trial begins in Los Angeles on March 15 in the United States District Court, Central District of California.

Witnesses for the government include Individual H, Toufic Baaklini and fundraising consultant Alexandra Kendrick.

ORIGINAL STORY: Rep. Jeff Fortenberry formally charged with scheme to deceive federal investigators

View the U.S. Attorney’s entire memorandum below:

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