Former Congressman Fortenberry avoids prison time for lying to the FBI
LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - As Nebraska chooses his temporary replacement, former Congressman Jeff Fortenberry will be starting his two-year probation term, with a judge deciding Tuesday that Fortenbery will not spend any time behind bars for lying to the FBI.
“This has all been traumatic but we had to fight and I’m still here,” Fortenberry told reporters after his sentencing.
In addition to probation, Judge Stanley Blumenfeld Jr. sentenced Fortenberry to pay a $25,000 fine and complete 320 hours of community service.
He said, in Fortenberry’s case, prison time would have been too severe.
“The court is convinced that this wrongful, dishonest choice was out-of-character for Mr. Fortenberry,” Judge Blumenfeld said. “On all accounts Mr. Fortenberry is a man of exceptional character; he is a person of good moral, honest character.”
The judge said this doesn’t make his actions okay, but said he doesn’t believe Fortenberry would engage in this kind of behavior again. The judge also said he read all 64 letters of support submitted by Fortenberry’s defense.
“I was really moved that the judge read all of the letters of support from my children and Nebraskans and people around the country and noted that,” Fortenberry said. “This has been very traumatic and we have more to go but I am grateful the judge recognized the pattern of what I wanted to do with my life was to serve in public office and try and help people.”
The prosecution, which had asked for prison time, also spoke after the sentencing.
“The court clearly conveyed the seriousness of the Congress member’s conduct,” prosecutor Mack Jenkins said. “He thought deeply about the sentence and I think justice was achieved by the jury’s convictions and the judge made it clear he believes the sentence will deter other similarly situated powerful people from making similar choices and that is justice in our view.”
In the hearings, he told the judge a prison sentence would have served as greater deterrence for others who may consider committing white collar crimes.
The judge said he considered this.
“The court takes seriously issues involving the public and the need to make sure conduct is appropriately punished to a point that a message is sent,” Blumenfeld said. “But a message shouldn’t be sent if when taking into account the circumstances overall, when all factors are considered, it’s an inappropriate sentence for the individual defendant.”
Jenkins said while he disagrees with the best methods for deterrence, he believes the judge was correct that the combination of probation, community service and a hefty fine will serve as deterrence.
Fortenberry’s defense attorney, John Littrell, still argued two years of probation and a $25,000 fine were too severe. John Littrell argued that he didn’t think anything would be accomplished by adding a second year of probation and that Fortenberry can’t afford the fine.
“Fortenberry is not a man of means,” Littrell said. “He has spent a tremendous amount on legal representation, he has spent a great deal of his own personal money. He stands to lose his pension and he has to support his five daughters, two of whom are in college, as well as his aging mother and sister.”
The judge said the fine is appropriate, despite being outside of the sentencing guidelines. With that, Judge Blumenfeld adjourned and wished Fortenberry the “best of luck.”
But Fortenberry said for him, this fight isn’t over.
“This is ongoing,” he said. “I have a right as a citizen to continue my appeals.”
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