Nebraska Rep. Fortenberry seeks dismissal of federal charges

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FILE - In this Nov. 2, 2018, file photo, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., speaks during a campaign rally tour stop in Omaha, Neb. A federal grand jury has indicted Fortenberry, accusing him of lying to the FBI and concealing information from federal agents who were investigating campaign contributions funneled to him from a Nigerian billionaire. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File)

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Attorneys for Republican Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska asked a judge Tuesday to dismiss federal charges accusing him of lying to FBI agents who were investigating illegal campaign contributions.

Attorney John Littrell argued in a court filing that the charges were incorrectly filed in California because the nine-term congressmen spoke to federal agents once in Nebraska and once in Washington, D.C.

Prosecutors say Fortenberry's statements affected their California-based investigation into illegal donations. Fortenberry received the illegal contributions from a Nigerian billionaire, Gilbert Chagoury, using a middleman at a 2016 fundraiser in Los Angeles.

Chagoury is forbidden from donating to federal campaigns because he's a foreign national. Both men have close ties to the group In Defense of Christians, which seeks to protect Christianity in the Middle East.

Fortenberry has pleaded not guilty, saying he cooperated with federal agents but was misled and that he didn't know the campaign contribution originated with Chagoury. One of Chagoury's conduits was Toufic Baaklini, described by prosecutors as a U.S.-based businessman and consultant for Chagoury who later agreed to cooperate with federal officials.

“The Congressman will ultimately be victorious in this case," Jim Morrell, a spokesman for Fortenberry, said in a statement. He said the case was brought by a prosecutor "who wants to drag a Republican Congressman from Nebraska all the way across the country to face a California jury.”

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office in Los Angeles didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

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