The federal case against Rep. Jeff FortenberryR-Neb. — who was indicted last month on charges of lying to federal investigators and concealing information about illegal campaign donations — appears to have ensnared another Republican congressman. The Department of Justice stated last week that a protective order was “necessary” in the Fortenberry case to protect “evidence related to sensitive and ongoing investigations, including those related to public officials.”
One public official, who is the subject of the inquiry, is is identified in court filings only as “Candidate C,” is Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican who is now the apparent target of a DOJ investigation — and may indeed have been the object of a sting operation. After serving nine terms in a Southern California District, Issa was elected to Congress in 2018. In 2018, Issa then resigned and moved to a San Diego County neighboring district. He was narrowly elected in 2020. Issa, who was the former CEO of Directed Electronics, an after-market auto accessories business, is one of the wealthiest members of the House.
On Sept. 10, 2014? Issa ate at the same table as her Gilbert Chagoury, a shadowy figure identified as a “foreign billionaire” in the charges against Fortenberry, at a Washington event hosted by the group In Defense of Christianity (IDC). Two weeks later, Issa’s campaign and the National Republican Congressional Committee received a total of $60,000 in donations, on the same day, from Dr. Elias Ayoub and his wife Mireille, an affluent Los Angeles couple who had also attended the IDC dinner. According to documents filed with the Justice Department, the $30,000 that went to Issa’s victory fund actually came from ChagouryA Nigerian citizen who cannot legally contribute to federal candidates
According to Deferred Prosecution Agreements (DPAs) for ChagouryA Lebanese national named Joseph Arsan, Chagoury met with Elias Ayoub — identified in the documents as “Individual H” — at a “special interest conference” in Washington in September 2014. This was the IDC Summit that took place Sept. 9-11 at the Washington Convention Center. Omni Shoreham Hotel, which for years has served as a gathering spot for Washington’s conservative elite and formerly hosted the annual Conservative Political Action ConferenceEvents (CPAC).
Toufic Baaklini hosted the IDC event and acted as a middleman between Chagoury and political candidates. Ayoub and his wife were both present at the same event. According to the DPAs, Chagoury suggested that Ayoub host a political fundraiser for “Candidate C,” who is now known to be Issa, and asked him to “contribute $30,000” to Issa’s Victory Fund, which Chagoury made clear he would reimburse to Ayoub.
Photos reviewed by SalonThe video shows that Chagoury sat next-to Issa at the gala dinner at the IDC summit.
On Sept. 28, 2014, Ayoub and his wife contributed $30,000 to Issa’s Victory Fund, which made the Ayoub family’s LLC the 10th largest employerTo donate to this committee during the 2014 election cycle. According to the Justice Department, on Oct. 21, Joseph Arsan — at Chagoury’s direction — wired $30,000 to Ayoub, indicating on the wire form that the funds were for a “wedding gift.” That was actually the payment to reimburse the Ayoubs for their donation to Issa’s campaign.
The Ayoubs made an additional $30,000 in federal contributions on the same day as the known straw donations: $2,600 each to Issa for Congress, $7,400 each to the NRCC and $5,000 each to Issa’s PAC, which was called Invest in a Strong and Secure America. Although it is not clear if those funds came from the Ayoubs, or from someone else entirely, they are not included in the DOJ agreements.
Ayoub was also the co-host and a straw donor for a 2016 fundraiser for Fortenberry — the event that led to the Nebraska congressman’s indictment last month. Federal prosecutors say that Ayoub was the co-host and straw donor for the 2016 fundraiser for Fortenberry. began cooperating with authorities in September 2016 and told agents for the FBI and IRS about the illegal contributions to Fortenberry in 2016, as well as a $45,000 contribution to 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney and the $30,000 to Issa’s victory fund in 2014.
Another Los Angeles resident Ramez Toubassy (named as Individual I in DOJ documents), was “recruited” by Ayoub to make a $50,000 donation to the Romney campaign in the fall of 2012. Ayoub and Toubassy also made $30,800 to the Republican National Committee, as well as to state Republican organizations in Idaho and Vermont. Toubassy contributed $3,550 and Ayoub $2,925 to each group. Toubassy donated $3,550 to each group and Ayoub gave $2,925. was the “president of Brand Sense Partners, a Century City brand-consulting firm that counted Britney Spears and MGM among its clients.” He has not been named or charged in the scheme to this point.
Notably, the Ayoubs had never previously donated to any of Issa’s campaign committees and did not do so again until three and a half years after they apparently began cooperating with federal authorities. On March 28, 2020, shortly after Issa finished second in the top-two nonpartisan primary in California’s 50th congressional district, Dr. Ayoub made two additional donations to Issa: $2,000 to his victory fund and $2,000 to Darrell Issa for Congress. (Issa won the general election in November.
The timing of these contributions was approximately one year prior to the DOJ announced “Non and Deferred Prosecution Agreements” with Chagoury and Arsan, is striking. It seems plausible that the Ayoubs were part of the DOJ investigation into Issa. The indictment against FortenberryThis includes the following:
Federal Investigation also sought information on whether and when politicians were aware that they had received illegal conduit or foreign national contributions. Also, whether or not anyone sought to influence the recipient politician in order to receive the contributions.
“No, I don’t have the same issues [as Fortenberry],” Issa told Politico’sHaley Fuchs with Olivia Beavers in October. “I made no statements to any FBI — or anything else.”
Neither Rep. Issa or the Department of Justice have responded. Salon’s requests for comment. Gilbert Chagoury and Elias along with Mireille Ayoub couldn’t be reached.