Memory expert banned from testifying at Fortenberry trial

LINCOLN, Neb. (Nebraska Examiner) — A federal judge has barred expert testimony from memory in the upcoming federal trial of U.S. Representative Jeff Fortenberry and barred defense attorneys from arguing that the lead prosecutor in the case was biased.

U.S. District Court Judge Stanley Blumenfeld in pretrial rulings granted a request by prosecutors to bar the testimony of memory expert Dr. Alan Castel.

Memories fade

Lawyers for Fortenberry, 60, had sought to have Castel testify that memories are often inaccurate and that memories fade with age. The doctor was also called to tell jurors that “repetitive and suggestive questions and stress” — in this case, during two interviews with federal agents — can alter memories.

But Blumenfeld, in rulings filed Wednesday, agreed that Castel’s testimony would be speculative, based solely on his observations from the interviews, and that “the idea that memory fades or changes over time is a concept that jurors understand without needing the help of an expert”.

The judge also granted a motion by prosecutors to exclude evidence or arguments that the lead prosecutor in the case, Mack Jenkins, was politically motivated to indict the congressman.

A setup?

Defense attorneys for Fortenberry pointed out that Jenkins contributed to Democratic Party candidates and argued that he “tricked” the congressman into thinking he was not the target of their investigation.

The rulings come as attorneys prepare for a trial that begins Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. The trial is expected to continue until March 22.

It was in California that federal agents launched an investigation into $180,000 in illegal, foreign contributions to a “driving” campaign by a Nigerian-Lebanese billionaire, Gilbert Chagoury. Fortenberry, along with then-U.S. Representative Lee Terry, R-Neb., were among the recipients.

Fortenberry received approximately $30,000 from a group of Lebanese Americans at a fundraiser in Los Angeles in 2016.

The assistant voiced his concerns

One of his aides wondered if the money came from Chagoury, as foreigners cannot donate to US political campaigns and all donations came from one family. Later, an LA fundraiser organizer — then working as an FBI informant — told Fortenberry the money likely came from Chagoury, a Paris resident who shared the congressman’s concerns about persecution. Christians in the Middle East.

But when federal agents interviewed Fortenberry in 2019, he could not recall the money coming from a stranger.

Terry donated the donations he received from Chagoury to charity. Fortenberry, meanwhile, was seeking a second fundraiser in Los Angeles for his 2018 campaign. He donated the $30,000 to charities in late 2019, after his two interviews with federal authorities.

Fortenberry, who has served Eastern Nebraska’s 1st congressional district since 2005, pleaded not guilty to three felony charges.

He faces a tough challenge in the GOP primary from State Sen. Mike Flood of Norfolk, which was endorsed by Gov. Pete Ricketts and former Gov. Dave Heineman.

Nebraska Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a grant-supported network of news outlets and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nebraska Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact editor Cate Folsom with questions: [email protected] Follow Nebraska Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

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