May 11, 2023
Representative George Santos, the freshman Republican congressman serving New York whose myriad falsehoods became both a scandal and a national punchline, has been charged with a host of financial crimes in court papers unsealed on Wednesday, May 10, reports The Washington Post.
Santos, 34, surrendered to federal authorities and was expected to appear in a federal courthouse in Central Islip, on Long Island, later on Wednesday. The congressman and his lawyer did not respond to messages seeking comment.
Santos stands accused of deceiving prospective donors to his campaign and defrauding the state of New York, as well as making false statements to the House Committee on Ethics. He faces seven counts of wire fraud, three counts of money laundering, one count of theft of public funds, and two counts of lying to the House of Representatives on financial forms.
Details of his dealings with would-be donors and false statements on his ethics disclosures had been revealed in earlier reporting. But the indictment includes previously unknown accusations about a scheme to unlawfully obtain unemployment benefits.
According to prosecutors, Santos falsely claimed to have been unemployed in the summer of 2020 when he applied for benefits through the New York State Department of Labor; and continued to falsely certify his unemployment through the following spring, receiving more than $24,000 from the state. During that time, he was employed as a regional director for a Florida investment firm. That firm goes unnamed in the indictment, but its details match those of a company called Harbor City Capital, which was forced to shut down in 2021 after the Securities and Exchange Commission called it a “classic Ponzi scheme.”
“Taken together, the allegations in the indictment (document attached) charge Santos with relying on repeated dishonesty and deception to ascend to the halls of Congress and enrich himself,” U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said in a statement. “He used political contributions to line his pockets, unlawfully applied for unemployment benefits that should have gone to New Yorkers who had lost their jobs due to the pandemic, and lied to the House of Representatives.”
The federal allegations mark the latest chapter in a saga that has put Santos under a bright spotlight in Washington and beyond. The lies he told voters in a district stretching from parts of Long Island to Queens in New York largely escaped national attention until after his November victory. Once they were revealed on a broad scale, Santos, who flipped a seat previously held by a Democrat, apologized for what he called “résumé embellishment.”
But some of the scrutiny has been aimed at more serious potential wrongdoing—including allegedly misrepresenting his campaign’s finances and deceiving people for his financial gain.
According to the indictment, Santos used tens of thousands of dollars that ostensibly was raised for his 2022 congressional race to pay for designer clothes, pay off debts, and give money to associates. The indictment adds significantly to understanding of an alleged scheme to defraud would-be donors to Santos’ congressional campaign — an effort that prosecutors say Santos directed in violation of federal campaign finance law.
He is accused of soliciting funds, personally and through his campaign treasurer, to a company that he falsely represented both as a social welfare organization and a super PAC supporting his bid for federal office. In fact, prosecutors claim, funds from the company ultimately went to bank accounts controlled by Santos.
Santos is also charged with lying on congressional financial disclosure forms when he claimed that he earned $750,000 in salary from a firm he owned, had received between $1 million and $5 million in dividends from that firm, and had a checking account with a balance of more than $100,000 and a savings account with a balance of more than $1 million. None of those things were true, authorities said.
Wide-ranging complaints filed by watchdog groups with the Federal Election Commission earlier this year accused Santos of misrepresenting campaign spending and using campaign resources to cover personal expenses, among other allegations.
In January, the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section asked the FEC to hold off on any enforcement action against Santos—suggesting that prosecutors were examining overlapping issues.
The congressman has also come under fire for allegedly pocketing $3,000 from a GoFundMe page he purportedly set up for a homeless veteran to help pay for surgery for the man’s dying service dog—allegations that are not part of the indictment.
Research contact: @washingtonpost