Jorge Santos has been charged with fraud and perjury in a 13-count indictment

Jorge Santos has been charged with fraud and perjury in a 13-count indictment

CENTRAL ISLIP, NY — For months, Representative George Santos had a Teflon-like resistance to the results, even as his income, campaign finances and rags-to-riches life story were questioned.

Santos, a first-term Republican representing Long Island and Queens, made several speeches on the House floor and appeared to be enjoying his growing notoriety. Just last month, he announced his bid for re-election and tried to leverage his vote with the House Republican leadership on a controversial bill to raise the debt ceiling.

But on Wednesday, Mr. Santos faced consequences that may be hard to avoid. Federal prosecutors charged him with 13 counts of wire fraud, money laundering, theft of public funds and lying on federal disclosure forms and took him into custody.

Appearing before a judge and hundreds of assembled reporters in a federal courthouse in Central Islip, Santos pleaded not guilty to all charges. Mr. Santos, 34, was polite and respectful, sitting straight, his arms crossed in front of him, cutting a familiar demeanor in his trademark attire of sweaters under a navy blazer.

But outside, before a gaggle of news media and observers that included some one-word “lie” signs, his tone changed. “The reality is, it’s a witch hunt!” he announced from behind a pair of Ray Ban sunglasses.

Addressing reporters, he said that the allegations against him were politically motivated, and that he would eventually clear his name.

“I’m going to fight my fight, I’m going to deliver,” he said.

The indictment by federal authorities marked a sharp turn in the fortunes of a congressman who went from symbol of Republican resurgence to scandal-plagued political punching bag.

Prosecutors say Mr. Santos was involved in three separate schemes. The bulk of the indictment focuses on allegations of corruption in Mr. Santos’ political campaign. Prosecutors allege that Mr. Santos and an unnamed associate solicited at least $50,000 in donations in 2022 for what they claimed was a super PAC. Prosecutors said Mr Santos then pocketed the money for personal expenses, including luxury designer clothes and credit card payments.

The indictment also accused Mr. Santos of fraudulently applying for and receiving more than $24,000 in pandemic unemployment benefits while he was in fact employed, and of knowingly falsifying financial disclosure forms to mislead the public and the House of Representatives. But were giving wrong statements.

The allegations are unlikely to affect Santos’ immediate standing in Congress, which is already low. Although the indictment has led some more rank-and-file Republicans to join calls for Santos’ resignation, he has said he has no intention of stepping down and will continue to seek re-election.

House Republican leaders, who oversee an extremely tight Republican majority and face an escalating battle over the debt ceiling, largely defended Santos’ position on Wednesday, although House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said He will not support Mr. Santos’ re-election effort.

“Santos has a lot going on,” Mr McCarthy said. “I think he has other things to focus on in his life besides running for re-election.”

However, no action seemed imminent until Mr. Santos was found guilty.

“He was already removed from all his committees,” said Representative Steve Scalise, Republican of Louisiana and the House majority leader. “In America, there is the presumption of innocence, but they are serious allegations. They have to go through the legal process.”

Mr. Santos was released on a $500,000 bond that was secured by three people whose identities were not made public. His travel will be limited to New York, Washington and places in between, with advance permission required for other visits. His next court appearance is expected on June 30.

Mr. Santos has been dogged by questions about his background, his personal assets and his campaign finances since last December, when The New York Times and other outlets began reporting numerous falsehoods about his biography, education and work history was what he told the voters. Campaign trail.

Subsequent reporting left open questions about how Mr. Santos handled the finances of an animal rescue charity he claimed to have operated before running for Congress, and how he managed his personal business and political campaigns. was mixed. It also found several irregularities in the way his campaign was spent and raised.

Federal prosecutors charged Santos with seven counts of wire fraud, three counts of money laundering, one count of theft of public funds and two counts of making materially false statements to the House of Representatives.

Many details in the indictment surrounding $50,000 in misdirected political contributions appeared to closely match reporting by The Times in January. The Times reported that Mr. Santos registered a company, Redstone Strategies, in November 2021 and told donors that it was an “independent spending” group, or super PAC, as the entity is also described in the indictment.

The indictment refers to two contributors who gave $25,000 to a company controlled by Santos after they were told their money would go to his campaign. The indictment did not identify the contributors, but people with knowledge of the matter identified them as Raymond Tantillo, a Long Island businessman who owned a network of car dealerships, and Andrew Interrater, a wealthy investor.

Robert C. Gottlieb, a lawyer for Mr. Tantillo – who bought the $19 million yacht from another donor brokered by Mr. Santos – declined to comment. Mr. Intrater’s attorney, Richard D. Owens, released a statement saying that from the outset, his client had “assisted in the government’s investigation of George Santos and was identified as a victim in the indictment as Contributor #2.” Is.”

He said Mr Intrater was “satisfied” that Mr Santos would have to answer for his lies in court.

The allegation is that Mr. Santos fraudulently obtained unemployment benefits in June 2020, as Mr. Santos was making his first run for Congress. Prosecutors said he then applied for benefits from New York, repeatedly telling the state through April 2021 that he had been unemployed since March 2020. In fact, he was earning $120,000 a year through his employment at a Florida-based investment firm, prosecutors say.

Mr. Santos is one of 35 co-sponsors of a House bill that would help states recover fraudulent pandemic unemployment payments.

Mr. Santos also failed to disclose that income on federal financial disclosure forms to both his congressional campaigns in 2020 and 2022. In the indictment, prosecutors also accused him of falsely inflating his salary, failing to disclose other income and lying during those campaigns. About the amount in his checking and savings accounts.

If Mr Santos is convicted of the charges, he could face up to 20 years in prison for the top counts, according to the US Attorney’s Office, which has partnered with the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service and the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office to investigate. has worked. ,

But for months, Santos has denied any criminal wrongdoing, even admitting to lying about going to Baruch College and playing volleyball there and working for prestigious Wall Street firms.

Mr. Santos also faces investigation by the House Ethics Committee, which is looking into whether he failed to properly fill out required financial disclosure forms, violated federal conflict of interest laws or committed other illegalities during his campaign. Engage in activities.

He also faced a criminal case in Brazil for check fraud stemming from an episode in 2008. Court records show Mr. Santos spent about $700 at a store near Rio de Janeiro using stolen checkbooks and a false name. Mr. Santos confessed to the theft in 2010, but the case was dropped when police and prosecutors were unable to trace him after he moved to the United States.

The matter is to be heard on Thursday.

As of Wednesday, there was little indication that Santos’ recent legal troubles would hinder his re-election bid. In fact, soon after securing the bond that would allow him to campaign outside the state with advance permission, he turned the ordeal into a fundraising opportunity.

“The fight is real,” he wrote in a Twitter post about the allegations, which included allegations that he had defrauded supporters in the past. “I need your support to fight for freedom.”

Reporting was contributed by William K. rushbaum And Rebecca Davis O’Brien from New York; Annie Carney from Washington; And Michael D Regan And Nate Schweber from Central Islip, NY


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *