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Appellate court reverses federal conviction against former Nebraska US Rep. Fortenberry

LOS ANGELES (AP) — An appellate court on Tuesday reversed a 2022 federal conviction against former Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska, ruling that he should not have been tried in Los Angeles.

Fortenberry was convicted on charges that he lied to federal authorities about an illegal $30,000 contribution to his campaign from a foreign billionaire at a 2016 Los Angeles fundraiser. It was the first trial of a sitting congressman since Rep. Jim Traficant, D-Ohio, was convicted of bribery and other felony charges in 2002.

A federal jury in Los Angeles found the nine-term Republican guilty of concealing information and two counts of making false statements to authorities. Fortenberry was charged after denying to the FBI that he was aware he had received illicit funds from Gilbert Chagoury, a Nigerian billionaire of Lebanese descent.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued its ruling Tuesday, writing that because Fortenberry made the false statements during interviews with federal agents at his home in Lincoln, Nebraska, and in his lawyer’s office in Washington, the trial venue was improper. The appellate court only ruled on the venue.

“Fortenberry’s convictions are reversed so that he may be retried, if at all, in a proper venue,” the decision said.

Fortenberry and his wife, Celeste Fortenberry, praised the court’s decision.

“We are gratified by the Ninth Circuit’s decision,” Jeff Fortenberry said in a statement. “Celeste and I would like to thank everyone who has stood by us and supported us with their kindness and friendship.”

Representatives from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles did not have an immediate comment.

Stefanie Dazio, The Associated Press

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