U.S. Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., has been controversial since his election over known lies about his heritage, education, and professional pedigree.
He was arrested Wednesday morning over financial dealings, and surrendered to authorities. He is expected to make an initial court appearance later in the day at a federal courthouse on Long Island.
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The indictment says Santos induced supporters to donate to a company under the false pretense that the money would be used to support his campaign. Instead, authorities said, he used it for personal expenses, including luxury designer clothes and to pay off his credit cards.
Santos also is accused of lying about his finances on congressional disclosure forms and applying for and receiving unemployment benefits while he was employed as regional director of an investment firm and running for Congress.
U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said the indictment “seeks to hold Santos accountable for various alleged fraudulent schemes and brazen misrepresentations.”
“Taken together, the allegations in the indictment charge Santos with relying on repeated dishonesty and deception to ascend to the halls of Congress and enrich himself,” Peace said.
The previous day, Santos had skipped a House to head back to New York, one insider told CNN. He appeared surprised by the charges.
“This is news to me,” Santos told the Associated Press on Wednesday morning. “You’re the first one to call me about this.”
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Santos has faced criminal investigations before. At age 19, he was the subject of a criminal investigation in Brazil over allegations he used stolen checks to buy items at a clothing shop. Brazilian authorities said they have reopened the case.
In 2017, Santos was charged with theft in Pennsylvania after authorities said he used thousands of dollars in fraudulent checks to buy puppies from dog breeders. That case was dismissed after Santos claimed his checkbook had been stolen, and that someone else had taken the dogs.
Federal authorities have separately been looking into complaints about Santos work raising money for a group that purported to help neglected and abused pets. One New Jersey veteran accused Santos of failing to deliver $3,000 he had raised to help his pet dog get a needed surgery.
Now a member of Congress, Santos has resisted calls to resign and recently announced he was running for reelection. He said his lies about his life story, which included telling people he had jobs at several global financial firms and a lavish real estate portfolio, were harmless embellishments of his resume.
Pressure on him to quit, though, has been intense. Reporters and members of the public hounded him. He was mocked on social media and late-night television.
Fellow New York Republicans demanded he resign, saying he had betrayed voters and his own party with his lies.
“I reiterate my call for George Santos to step down,” Rep. Mike Lawler, R-N.Y., said in a statement. Lawler unseated an incumbent Democrat last year, and he’s headed for a tough campaign for re-election next year.
Even House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., seemed open to endorsing Santos’s removal from Congress. When asked about his opinion on removing Santos, the House speaker told CNN, “I’ll look at the charges.”
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Besides questions about his life story, Santos’ campaign spending stoked scrutiny because of unusual payments for travel, lodging and other items.
The nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center lodged a complaint with the Federal Election Commission and urged regulators to investigate Santos. The “mountain of lies” Santos propagated during the campaign about his life story and qualifications, the center said, should prompt the commission to “thoroughly investigate what appear to be equally brazen lies about how his campaign raised and spent money.”
Nassau County prosecutors and the New York attorney general’s office had previously said they were looking into possible violations of the law.
In his filings with the FEC, Santos initially said he loaned his campaign and related political action committees more than $750,000 — money he claimed came from a family company.
Yet, the wealth necessary to make those loans seems to have emerged from nowhere. In a financial disclosure statement filed with the clerk of the U.S. House in 2020, Santos said he had no assets and an annual income of $55,000.
His company, the Devolder Organization, wasn’t incorporated until spring 2021. Yet last September, Santos filed another financial disclosure form reporting that this new company, incorporated in Florida, had paid him a $750,000 salary in each of the last two years, plus another $1 million to $5 million in dividends. In one interview, Santos described the Devolder Organization as a business that helped rich people buy things like yachts and aircraft.
Court records indicate Santos was the subject of three eviction proceedings in Queens between 2014 and 2017 because of unpaid rent.
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Some Republicans, including those in his district, have sharply castigated Santos for his dishonesty. The Nassau County Republican Committee, which had supported his candidacy, said it would not support Santos for reelection.
Santos lost his first race for Congress in 2020. However, he ran again in 2022, and he won in a swing district encompassing some suburbs of Long Island and a sliver of Queens.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.