By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) – A federal appeals courtroom on Tuesday overturned the conviction of former Nebraska congressman Jeff Fortenberry for mendacity to authorities investigating unlawful contributions to his 2016 reelection marketing campaign, saying his trial was held within the unsuitable place.

The ninth U.S. Circuit Court docket of Appeals mentioned Fortenberry mustn’t have been tried in Los Angeles, the place the Republican’s marketing campaign allegedly acquired $30,000 from Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire Gilbert Chagoury, simply because federal brokers who later interviewed him in regards to the cash labored there.

Writing for a three-judge panel, Decide James Donato mentioned the U.S. Division of Justice might search a brand new trial in Nebraska or Washington, D.C., the place Fortenberry denied understanding about unlawful contributions.

Prosecutors mentioned Chagoury donated the $30,000 by way of “straw donors” who attended a marketing campaign fundraiser for Fortenberry in Los Angeles. Federal legislation prohibits international nationals from contributing to campaigns for federal, state and native places of work.

Donato, a district decide who usually works in San Francisco, mentioned the trial didn’t belong in California simply because Fortenberry’s alleged false statements affected investigators there.

“This outlandish end result can’t be squared with the Structure,” Donato wrote.

The Justice Division had no instant remark.

Fortenberry, who turns 63 on Wednesday, represented Nebraska’s 1st congressional district for 17 years earlier than his March 2022 conviction on two counts of constructing false statements and one depend of scheming to hide materials information.

He resigned from Congress that month, and was sentenced in June 2022 to 2 years of probation and 320 hours of neighborhood service.

“We’re gratified by the Ninth Circuit’s determination,” Fortenberry mentioned in an announcement, citing his spouse. “Celeste and I want to thank everybody who has stood by us and supported us with their kindness and friendship.”

Chagoury paid a $1.8 million tremendous in December 2019 to resolve a Justice Division probe that he illegally conspired to donate $180,000 to 4 candidates in federal elections.

The case is U.S. v. Fortenberry, ninth U.S. Circuit Court docket of Appeals, No. 22-50144.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Modifying by Richard Chang)

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