Former Nebraska Rep. Jeff Fortenberry was sentenced Tuesday to two years of probation for lying to the FBI about illegal contributions to his 2016 reelection campaign.
Fortenberry will also have to pay a $25,000 fine and complete 320 hours of community service, Judge Stanley Blumenfeld Jr. ruled at federal court on Tuesday. The Nebraska Republican will not spend any time in prison.
The government sought a six-month prison sentence for Fortenberry, two years of supervised release, a $30,000 fine, 150 hours of community service and a special assessment of $300. Fortenberry’s defense asked for no prison time — instead seeking one year of probation without a fine.
The former congressman was found guilty last March on three counts of lying to the FBI during an investigation into $30,000 of foreign national and conduit contributions to his 2016 campaign. The government said in court documents that Fortenberry premeditated the plan to mislead investigators and throw them off his trail, while also using his status as a congressman to intimidate them.
Blumenfeld said Tuesday that he took into account Fortenberry’s overall history and character in his sentencing. He said while Fortenberry made a wrong choice, “by all accounts the man is of exceptional character.”
“The court is convinced that this wrongful, dishonest choice was out of character by Mr. Fortenberry,” Blumenfeld said.
Prosecutor Mack Jenkins largely agreed with Blumenfeld’s sentencing terms but argued that prison time was necessary to deter others from committing similar crimes in the future.
The judge said while he took deterrence into account in his sentencing, it was outweighed by other factors in favor of no prison time — including Fortenberry’s character and public service record. Blumenfeld also cited cases in which defendants who committed similar acts as Fortenberry didn’t receive prison time for their conduct.
The defense said Blumenfeld considered Fortenberry’s background and public service fairly in his sentencing, but asked that the judge consider lowering the $25,000 fine and lessening the two-year probation sentence to one year.
Blumenfeld denied the defense’s request — standing firm on the terms of the sentence and calling it “sufficient but not greater than necessary.”
Fortenberry, in an unusual move, declined to address the court during the sentencing Tuesday. He instead released a post-hearing statement saying he was “thankful” to Blumenfeld for taking his character into account, but nonetheless argued that the case should never have been brought and that he would appeal the verdict. Fortenberry claimed he “knew nothing about the conspiracy to illegally funnel money to my campaign.”
“We are continuing the fight for fairness that we’ve waged throughout this process. The issues at stake are much bigger than me,” Fortenberry said in the statement. “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.”