LOS ANGELES, Calif. (KMTV) — Congressman Jeff Fortenberry officially pleaded not guilty Wednesday on three alleged felony charges that center on what federal authorities call a deliberate misleading of an FBI investigation on illegal campaign funds. Representative Fortenberry will not be forced into detention while he awaits the case. He still must post a $50,000 bond and despite objections from his attorney, he cannot talk to anybody on the witness list that includes current and former staff members.
Judge Rozella Oliver told the prosecution and Fortenberry defense team to work out details so Fortenberry may be allowed to at least talk with current staff, just not about the case.
Fortenberry's attorney argued for the lightest bond terms possible, saying the nine-term congressman, “Served his country with dignity throughout his entire time in Congress.”
The judge largely agreed, giving Fortenberry reasonable conditions.
Through multiple court documents, the FBI paints a picture on how they say the money got to Fortenberry.
It starts with billionaire foreign national Gilbert Chagoury, who gave $30,000 to his consultant Toufic Baaklini, an American businessman. Baaklini then gave the money to a person the FBI calls ‘Individual H’ who then spread the $30,000 to eight other people who made what appeared to be legal donations to Fortenberry’s campaign.
The affidavit from the feds says Fortenberry repeatedly lied and misled authorities during their investigation into illegal contributions.
Authorities say Fortenberry told them he was unaware that the money came from Chagoury or illegally to him at all. The affidavit also says that Fortenberry never disclosed that the money came from Chagoury at any point.
Each of the three charges carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
Fortenberry's attorney John Littrell said, in court, he will soon file motions that include suppressing Fortenberry's statements to the FBI and dismissing the case.
Judge Oliver set a trial date of December 14th, 2021.