Embattled New York and Long Island Congress Member George Santos has been arrested on a 13-count federal indictment charging him with fraud, money laundering, theft of public funds, and lying to the House of Representatives.
The congressman surrendered into federal custody Wednesday morning, May 10, and appeared before Judge Anne Shields in Suffolk County federal court in the afternoon. He pled not guilty to all charges and was released on $500,000 bond, though it’s unclear who paid it. He’s due back in court on June 30, and faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
Outside the Central Islip federal court after his arraignment Wednesday, Santos remained defiant, rebuffed calls to resign from office, and employed the Trumpian tactic of deriding the criminal case against him as a “witch hunt.”
“This is the beginning of the ability for me to address and defend myself,” Santos told reporters during the media circus. “I’m gonna fight my battle, I’m gonna deliver, I’m gonna fight the witch hunt, I’m gonna take care of clearing my name. And I look forward to doing that.”
The indictment is as wide-ranging as one would expect from Santos — a Republican who flipped New York’s 3rd District in November but soon became a political pariah after it was learned he had fabricated almost his entire biography during his winning campaign.
He’s accused of defrauding the state Labor Department to receive unemployment benefits; siphoning off campaign contributions to his personal bank accounts for his own profit; and grossly exaggerating his personal wealth in campaign finance forms presented to Congress.
The alleged crimes took place both before and during his successful 2022 campaign. If convicted on all counts, Santos could face up to 20 years in prison.
“This indictment seeks to hold Santos accountable for various alleged fraudulent schemes and brazen misrepresentations,” said Breon Peace, the U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of New York, in a statement. “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.”
Pocketing campaign, unemployment cash
In 2020, federal prosecutors contend that Santos lied to New York State’s Department of Labor and fraudulently obtained more than $24,000 in unemployment benefits, at a time he was employed as regional director at an investment firm making a $120,000 salary and undertaking his first unsuccessful run for Congress.
In September 2022, at the height of his winning congressional campaign, Santos allegedly pocketed $50,000 from donors who believed they were making campaign contributions, actions for which he is charged with wire fraud and money laundering. Santos allegedly hired a Queens-based political consultant who told prospective donors their money would go towards his campaign, including television ads. The company was portrayed as a 501(c)(4) independent expenditure committee not subject to federal campaign finance caps.
Two donors sent $25,000 to a limited liability company operated by Santos, which then transferred the money to his personal bank account. Santos then spent the money on designer clothing, car payments, credit card payments, cash withdrawals, payments of personal debts, and wire transfers to Santos’ “associates.”
Finally, Santos is charged with making materially false statements on House financial disclosure forms during his 2020 and 2022 congressional campaigns. In 2020, he allegedly overreported his annual income from one company while significantly underreporting his income from a Florida-based investment firm, which is not specified but, based on its description in the indictment, appears to be Harbor City Capital, a firm where Santos was employed that the Securities and Exchange Commission says was a Ponzi scheme.
In his 2022 disclosures, Santos — who falsely portrayed himself as a wealthy investor on the campaign trail — reported earning $750,000 in income and up to $5,000,000 in dividends from his investment firm the Devolder Organization, and that he had a checking account with up to $250,000 and savings of up to $5,000,000. All those claims, prosecutors say, were bunk; further, he failed to disclose his income from the Florida investment firm nor his unemployment benefits.
The Eastern District’s wide-ranging investigation into Santos was assisted by the FBI, the US and New York Departments of Labor, and the Nassau and Queens District Attorneys.
Other lies he told
Santos has faced repeated, bipartisan calls to resign from his seat since the scale of his lies started becoming known, but he has declined to do so and instead announced he would run for reelection. Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday declined to expel the right-wing lawmaker. On the courthouse steps, Santos said he would not resign from his seat.
The serial fraudster could still potentially face other charges for the litany of other shady activities he is accused of partaking in, like a check fraud scheme in Brazil, participating in an ATM skimming plot, sexually harassing a staffer, operating a phony animal charity, and stealing from a fundraiser for a dog dying of cancer. He has also lied about more mundane things, like his mother dying on 9/11, his Jewish ethnicity, his personal wealth, and his educational and career background.
There are also further unresolved questions over the finances of his congressional bid, including how he loaned his campaign over $700,000.
With AP reports. Additional reporting by Briana Bonfiglio and Robert Pozarycki.