George Santos: Republican pleads not guilty to stealing from campaign, duping donors, lying to Congress

·4-min read
George Santos leaves Central Islip Federal Courthouse in New York (REUTERS)
George Santos leaves Central Islip Federal Courthouse in New York (REUTERS)

US congressman George Santos has pleaded not guilty to charges of fraud, money laundering and theft of public funds as he appeared in court on Wednesday.

Mr Santos, 34, has been accused of defrauding prospective political supporters by laundering funds to pay for his personal expenses and illegally receiving unemployment benefits while he was employed.

He has also been accused of making false statements to the House of Representatives about his assets, income and liabilities.

Mr Santos was mobbed by reporters and protesters as he left Central Islip Federal Courthouse on Wednesday, wearing sunglasses. One man held a sign reading ‘lies’ behind Mr Santos.

Top House Republicans, who control the chamber by a narrow 222-213 margin, said they would wait for the legal process to play out before taking further action on Mr Santos, who made the plea at the federal courthouse in Central Islip, New York.

He was released on a $500,000 bond (£395,965) and is due back in court for his next appearance on June 30. This means he can go back to Washington and cast votes in Congress.

As a condition of his release, he agreed to surrender his passport and to limit his travel.

“I’m proud of the way he can stand tall and face the music,” said Mr Santos’ attorney, Joe Murray. “We’re finally going to get to address all his allegations.”

Federal prosecutors said they had evidence of a sweeping pattern of fraudulent behavior.

“Taken together, the allegations in the indictment charge Mr Santos with relying on repeated dishonesty and deception to ascend to the halls of Congress and enrich himself,” Breon Peace, the US prosecutor for the Eastern District of New York, said in a statement.

Nine House Republicans have so far called for Mr Santos to resign, including six from his home state of New York.

But House Republican Steve Scalise said the caucus would withhold judgment on Mr Santos.

“In America, there’s a presumption of innocence, but they’re serious charges. He’s going to have to go through the legal process,” he told a press conference.

Mr Santos was elected to Congress last autumn after a campaign built partly on falsehoods.

He told people he was a wealthy Wall Street dealmaker with a substantial real estate portfolio who had been a star volleyball player in college, among other things.

In reality, he did not work at the big financial firms he claimed had employed him, did not go to college and had struggled financially before his run for public office.

He said falsely that he was Jewish and that his grandparents escaped the Nazis during World War Two. Santos, who identifies as gay, also failed to disclose that he was married to a woman for several years ending in 2019.


He has since admitted to fabricating large parts of his resume.

Questions about the Republican politician’s finances also surfaced.

In regulatory filings, Mr Santos said he had loaned his campaign and related political action committees more than 750,000 US dollars (£594,000), but it was unclear how he would have come into that kind of wealth so quickly after years in which he struggled to pay his rent and faced multiple eviction proceedings.

In a financial disclosure form, Mr Santos had reported making 750,000 US dollars a year plus dividends from a family company, the Devolder Organisation.

He later described that business as a broker for sales of luxury items including yachts and aircraft.

The business was incorporated in Florida shortly after Mr Santos stopped working as a salesman for a company accused by federal authorities of operating an illegal Ponzi scheme.

“Listen, George Santos should have resigned in December. George Santos should have resigned in January. George Santos should have resigned yesterday. And perhaps he’ll resign today. But sooner or later, whether he chooses to or not, both the truth and justice will be delivered to him,” Marc Molinaro, a Republican representing parts of upstate New York, said.

Mr Santos has faced criminal investigations before.

When he was 19, he was the subject of a criminal investigation in Brazil over allegations he used stolen cheques to buy items at a clothing shop. Brazilian authorities said they had reopened the case.

In 2017, Mr Santos was charged with theft in Pennsylvania after authorities said he used thousands of dollars in fraudulent checks to buy puppies from dog breeders.

This case was dismissed after Mr Santos claimed his chequebook had been stolen, and that someone else had taken the dogs.

Federal authorities have been looking separately into complaints about Mr Santos’s work raising money for a group that purported to help neglected and abused pets.

One New Jersey veteran accused Mr Santos of failing to deliver 3,000 US dollars (£2,400) he had raised to help his pet dog get surgery it needed.