In a significant development, a federal appeals court on Tuesday nullified the 2022 conviction of former US Representative Jeff Fortenberry, who was found guilty of providing false information to federal authorities regarding illegal campaign contributions. The court asserted that the charges against the Nebraska Republican were incorrectly filed in the jurisdiction of Los Angeles, and not in Nebraska or Washington, DC, where the alleged false statements were made during meetings with the FBI.
Fortenberry’s convictions stemmed from allegations that he lied during two separate meetings with the FBI, denying any knowledge of illegal contributions to his 2016 reelection campaign by a foreign national. The unanimous decision by the appeals court highlighted the error in charging Fortenberry in Los Angeles, where the campaign finance investigation was based, rather than the locations where the false statements occurred.
Judge James Donato, in authoring the court’s opinion, expressed the constitutional discrepancy in holding Fortenberry’s trial in a state where no charged crime took place and before a jury drawn from the vicinity of the federal agencies involved in the investigation. Donato emphasized the need for a retrial, if pursued, in a proper venue, either in Nebraska or Washington, DC.
The Justice Department’s course of action remains uncertain, and it is yet to be determined whether they will opt to retry Fortenberry. If a retrial is pursued, federal prosecutors must bring charges in one of the appropriate jurisdictions, effectively restarting the legal proceedings. The US attorney’s office for the Central District of California, where the initial charges were brought, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
In response to the court’s decision, Fortenberry expressed gratitude, stating, “Celeste and I would like to thank everyone who has stood by us and supported us with their kindness and friendship.” The former congressman had resigned from office in the wake of his conviction last year, citing an inability to “effectively serve,” though he was not charged with violating federal election laws. As the legal landscape shifts, Fortenberry awaits further developments in what has become a complex and closely watched case.