Prosecutors slam Fortenberry’s request to move trial as ‘forum shopping’

By: - February 3, 2022 12:21 pm
U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry talking to reporters in US Capitol

U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-NE, in the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Federal prosecutors are slamming a request by U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry to move his criminal trial from California to Nebraska as jury shopping and an attempt to claim privilege as an elected official.

“He presumes that his privilege and status as a U.S. Congressman entitle him to special treatment to move his trial … to a location with a perceived friendly jury pool where he serves as an elected politician,” stated prosecutors in a motion filed Tuesday opposing the move.

Fortenberry, a Republican who has represented the district since 2005, is fighting for his political life after being charged with three felony counts for allegedly lying to federal investigators probing illegal campaign contributions from a foreigner.

State Sen. Mike Flood of Norfolk
State Sen. Mike Flood of Norfolk
photo courtesy of Flood for Congress

State Sen. Mike Flood of Norfolk is mounting a primary challenge to the congressman, maintaining that his legal troubles make his 1st District seat vulnerable to be lost by the GOP.

Second attempt to move trial

Fortenberry, 60, has twice asked that his trial be moved to Nebraska. His defense attorneys argue that the U.S. District Court in Nebraska has a less crowded trial schedule and is still holding trials, unlike the California court. In California, COVID-19 concerns have shut down trials through February, making it likely that Fortenberry’s trial will be moved to March 15.

U.S. District Judge Stanley Blumenfeld had yet to rule on Fortenberry’s motion to move his trial or on some other pre-trial motions, including one to throw out the supposed incriminating statements he made in 2019 to FBI investigators in Lincoln and to FBI and U.S. attorneys in Washington, D.C.

Agents were probing illegal “conduit” campaign contributions from a foreigner given to a handful of American politicians, including Fortenberry. A group of Lebanese-Americans gave Fortenberry $30,000 during a 2018 fundraiser at a restaurant in Los Angeles.

‘Dear Patriot’ letter

Fortenberry contends that he was “misled” when he was questioned by federal agents and that he simply didn’t recall that he had been told the $30,000 had originated from a Nigerian billionaire living in Paris.

Prosecutors, in their motion opposing a move of the trial, said Fortenberry has complained about the prospect of “fac[ing] a jury of Californians” that was “heavily Democratic” and has wrongly claimed he was being charged for political reasons. They called the request “forum shopping.”

In their motion, prosecutors included as exhibits some “Dear Patriot” fundraising emails sent out by Fortenberry’s wife, Celeste. The emails claim that prosecutors had indicted her husband because “he’s a conservative Republican, from a farm state.”

“They want to stop his work and flip his seat. They can’t call him crazy, so they’re accusing him of a fake crime,” Celeste Fortenberry claimed, in asking for donations to his legal defense.

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska state government and the state for decades. Previously with the Omaha World-Herald, Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha Sun, he is a member of the Omaha Press Club's Hall of Fame. He grows hops, brews homemade beer, plays bass guitar and basically loves traveling and writing about the state. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation.

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