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Former Nebraska congressman Jeff Fortenberry sentenced to probation in federal corruption trial

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Former Nebraska congressman Jeff Fortenberry was sentenced in federal court Tuesday to two years probation for lying to the FBI about a 2016 foreign campaign contribution.Fortenberry, who served nine terms for Nebraska's first congressional district, was found guilty of three felony charges by a California jury in March. He will not serve jail time.Federal judge Stanley Blumenfeld, Jr., who received 64 letters in support of the former congressman, said that Fortenberry made a "wrongful dishonest choice" that was "out of character.""Mr. Fortenberry turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the information he was provided by (Dr. Elias Ayoub) provided in June 2016," Blumenfeld said.Blumenfeld also sentenced Fortenberry to 320 hours of community service and a fine of $25,000.Fortenberry was facing up to 15 years in prison for all three charges. When the court convened in Los Angeles, the judge had sentence requests from both the prosecution and the defense.The defense asked for one-year probation and no fine, saying Fortenberry is over 60 and has spent all his money on his defense. Family, friends, even some of Nebraska's elected officials wrote the judge on behalf of Fortenberry asking he serve no time. The prosecution asked for prison time to deter others from committing the same crime — as well as a $30,000 fine: the exact amount Fortenberry accepted and purged only after the FBI asked about it, according to prosecutors.Blumenfeld disagreed, and said that Fortenberry giving up his seat in congress and the consequences of the trial serve as a deterrent for others. The judge also noted that the donor and the fundraiser were given no jail time and fines.Now, Fortenberry must report to the probation office in Los Angeles within 72 hours and will be required to pay the fine over the next two years.Fortenberry is convicted of one count of scheming to deceive and falsifying material and two counts of lying to the FBI. The former congressman, who vowed he would fight the conviction, can now file an appeal.Fortenberry issued a statement after his sentencing Tuesday."All I've ever wanted to do is serve my country and try to help people. I am grateful for over 20 years of public service, and I'm proud of my record of accomplishments for Nebraska and for America."I am thankful Judge Blumenfeld took the time to learn about who I am and what I have done in my life. And I am grateful he recognized that 'by all accounts' I am a man of 'exceptional character.' I was humbled today when the Judge noted that the testimony, including from government witnesses, established my honesty and integrity."Having said that, this is a case that never should have been brought; and certainly not in California. As the Judge explained today, I knew nothing about the conspiracy to illegally funnel money to my campaign. I was kept in the dark about it, just like other candidates who received similar illegal campaign contributions. I trusted the FBI agents and prosecutors from the Department of Justice. They took advantage of that trust. "I will be appealing this verdict. We are continuing the fight for fairness that we've waged throughout this process. The issues at stake are much bigger than me. This case shows how the federal false statements statute can be weaponized by FBI and DOJ officials in a way Congress could not have contemplated when it was enacted and that it can be used to destroy the lives of even the most honorable people. On appeal, I will seek to change the way this dangerous statute is applied so it is less subject to abuse by the FBI and DOJ in the future."This entire matter has been deeply traumatic for me and my family, but we're still here, still standing. I'm grateful for the tremendous outpouring of support from friends all over the world. I'm especially grateful for the love and support of my family."More coverage:

LOS ANGELES —

Former Nebraska congressman Jeff Fortenberry was sentenced in federal court Tuesday to two years probation for lying to the FBI about a 2016 foreign campaign contribution.

Fortenberry, who served nine terms for Nebraska's first congressional district, was found guilty of three felony charges by a California jury in March. He will not serve jail time.

Federal judge Stanley Blumenfeld, Jr., who received 64 letters in support of the former congressman, said that Fortenberry made a "wrongful dishonest choice" that was "out of character."

"Mr. Fortenberry turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the information he was provided by (Dr. Elias Ayoub) provided in June 2016," Blumenfeld said.

Blumenfeld also sentenced Fortenberry to 320 hours of community service and a fine of $25,000.

Fortenberry was facing up to 15 years in prison for all three charges. When the court convened in Los Angeles, the judge had sentence requests from both the prosecution and the defense.

The defense asked for one-year probation and no fine, saying Fortenberry is over 60 and has spent all his money on his defense. Family, friends, even some of Nebraska's elected officials wrote the judge on behalf of Fortenberry asking he serve no time.

The prosecution asked for prison time to deter others from committing the same crime — as well as a $30,000 fine: the exact amount Fortenberry accepted and purged only after the FBI asked about it, according to prosecutors.

Blumenfeld disagreed, and said that Fortenberry giving up his seat in congress and the consequences of the trial serve as a deterrent for others. The judge also noted that the donor and the fundraiser were given no jail time and fines.

Now, Fortenberry must report to the probation office in Los Angeles within 72 hours and will be required to pay the fine over the next two years.

Fortenberry is convicted of one count of scheming to deceive and falsifying material and two counts of lying to the FBI. The former congressman, who vowed he would fight the conviction, can now file an appeal.

Fortenberry issued a statement after his sentencing Tuesday.

"All I've ever wanted to do is serve my country and try to help people. I am grateful for over 20 years of public service, and I'm proud of my record of accomplishments for Nebraska and for America.

"I am thankful Judge Blumenfeld took the time to learn about who I am and what I have done in my life. And I am grateful he recognized that 'by all accounts' I am a man of 'exceptional character.' I was humbled today when the Judge noted that the testimony, including from government witnesses, established my honesty and integrity.

"Having said that, this is a case that never should have been brought; and certainly not in California. As the Judge explained today, I knew nothing about the conspiracy to illegally funnel money to my campaign. I was kept in the dark about it, just like other candidates who received similar illegal campaign contributions. I trusted the FBI agents and prosecutors from the Department of Justice. They took advantage of that trust.

"I will be appealing this verdict. We are continuing the fight for fairness that we've waged throughout this process. The issues at stake are much bigger than me. This case shows how the federal false statements statute can be weaponized by FBI and DOJ officials in a way Congress could not have contemplated when it was enacted and that it can be used to destroy the lives of even the most honorable people. On appeal, I will seek to change the way this dangerous statute is applied so it is less subject to abuse by the FBI and DOJ in the future.

"This entire matter has been deeply traumatic for me and my family, but we're still here, still standing. I'm grateful for the tremendous outpouring of support from friends all over the world. I'm especially grateful for the love and support of my family."

More coverage:

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