Feds seek prison for Fortenberry, who is asking for probation

Posted at 5:35 PM, Jun 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-15 20:56:24-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — The fate of former Nebraska congressman Jeff Fortenberry could hinge on what a federal judge thinks of his behavior during and after the investigation that led to his conviction on three felony charges.

Federal prosecutors filed documents this week seeking six months in prison and two years of supervised release for Fortenberry.  

They say the former congressman has shown no remorse for lying to or misleading federal investigators since a federal jury convicted him in March.

Fortenberry, prosecutors wrote on June 14, violated his oath and broke the law, choosing repeatedly to “serve himself, his political career, and his ego.”

They say that even after Fortenberry was confronted with “overwhelming evidence of his guilt” before he was indicted, he reacted with hostility and blamed others.

“For his pattern of choosing hubris over honesty and for the trampled public trust…, a meaningful term of imprisonment is appropriate and necessary,” they wrote.

They also want Fortenberry to be fined $30,000, the same amount his House campaign accepted in illegal campaign donations from an international Christian lobbyist. 

Prosecutors also want Fortenberry to perform 150 hours of community service and pay a $300 fee.

It is illegal to raise funds from a foreign source for a congressional bid. Only contributions from Americans can be used. It also is illegal to lie to federal agents.

Fortenberry seeks probation

Fortenberry’s attorneys, in a filing of their own, argued that he should spend no time behind bars, face no fine and spend one year on federal probation.

They argued that Fortenberry has no criminal record and has paid a hefty price in diminished public standing from his conviction and resignation from office.

They say the convictions have “devastatingly impacted Mr. Fortenberry’s life,” saying he can no longer legally vote or hunt. His wife wrote about the fallout.

“Jeff lost his job, his reputation, and many friends,” Celeste Fortenberry wrote. “He has suffered public slander about his character extending far beyond the counts of his conviction.”

Fortenberry’s filing references mounting bills for his legal defense. Fortenberry used $600,000 in campaign funds to help cover legal costs, federal prosecutors say.

The filing alleges that Fortenberry’s congressional pension could be at risk. But Congress has never pulled the pension from a member convicted of a crime. 

The Fortenberry filing also stresses the importance of avoiding a fine while raising five daughters, with two in college and one with costly medical bills. 

Prosecutors said Fortenberry can afford a fine, saying he has a new private-sector job that pays him $12,000 a month, with a possibility of earning a $50,000 bonus.

Fortenberry’s legal team continues to argue that he was misled and mistreated by the FBI. He has appealed his conviction.

Prosecutors say that Fortenberry tried to intimidate investigators and slow their work and that he hasn’t accepted responsibility for his actions.

Fortenberry “chose the path of self-preservation and abandoned his oath and duty when he made the calculated decision to repeatedly lie” and mislead, they wrote.

Fortenberry’s attorneys say his status as a former congressman shouldn’t play into the sentencing decision because, in part, he no longer serves in Congress.

They lay out testimonials from his wife, his daughters, a friend from high school and others to argue that his character should overrule a harsh prison sentence.

“Sentencing guidelines do not call for imprisonment in this case, and imprisonment is unwarranted,” they wrote.

Nebraska Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nebraska Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Cate Folsom for questions: Follow Nebraska Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

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