Brazilian authorities have told The New York Times that they intend to reopen a criminal fraud case against openly gay New York Congressman-elect George Santos stemming from decade-old charges that had been filed against him, but were suspended after police were unable to locate him.
A spokeswoman for the Rio de Janeiro prosecutor’s office told the times that now that Santos’s whereabouts have been identified, the office will make a formal request to the U.S. Justice Department to notify him of the revived charges against him.
In 2008, just a month before his 20th birthday, Santos allegedly spent $700 at a small clothing store in the Brazilian city of Niterói, outside Rio de Janeiro, using a stolen checkbook and a false name. The checkbook allegedly belonged to a man whom his mother had worked for as a home nurse.
According to the Times, Santos admitted the fraud to the shop owner in August 2009, writing on Orkut, a popular social media website in Brazil: “I know I screwed up, but I want to pay. He allegedly later admitted to police in 2010 that he had stolen the checkbook of his mother’s former patient and used it to make fraudulent purchases.
A Brazilian judge approved the fraud charge in September 2011 and ordered Santos to respond to the case. But by October, he was in the United States and working at Dish Network in College Point, Queens, according to company records. Unable to locate Santos, authorities suspended the charges.
The charges in Brazil were initially reported by the Times as part of a larger exposé looking into alleged fabrications and discrepancies in Santos’s résumé and biography during his two campaigns for Congress, in 2020 and 2022, as well as questions about his financial dealings and whether he omitted pertinent information on his financial disclosure forms.
In an interview with the conservative New York Post in which he admitted to embellishing parts of his work and educational history, Santos denied being the subject of any criminal inquiry, saying: “I am not a criminal here — not here or in Brazil or any jurisdiction in the world.”
Joe Murray, a lawyer for Santos, told the Times: “I am in the process of engaging local counsel to address this alleged complaint against my client.”
Brazilian prosecutors are expected to file a petition reopening the case and requesting that Santos respond to the charges against him. A judge would then share the request, called a rogatory letter, with the federal Justice Ministry in Brazil, which would share it with the U.S. Department of Justice. While neither U.S. nor Brazilian authorities can force Santos to respond, he must be officially notified of the charges in order for the case against him to proceed.
If Santos does not present a defense in the Brazilian case, he will be tried in absentia. If found guilty, he could receive a sentence of up to five years in prison, plus a fine — although whether he’d actually serve time is questionable, especially if he never returns to Brazil.
A criminal conviction alone would not disqualify Santos — or any member of Congress — from holding office. Additionally, given the extreme partisanship in U.S. politics, it is unlikely that the House of Representatives — regardless of which party controls it — would be able to muster a vote from two-thirds of its members to expel Santos from office. The last time a member was expelled was in 2002, when former U.S. Rep. James Traficant, Jr. (D-Ohio) was removed after his conviction on felony racketeering and corruption charges.
The House could also choose to censure Santos by a majority vote, but that would not result in his removal — and, again, due to partisanship and the tendency of the major parties to “circle the wagons” around their own members accused of wrongdoing, is unlikely to happen under a Republican-controlled Congress.
Only two members of Congress have been censured in the last 39 years, with former U.S. Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) censured for improper solicitation of funds, making inaccurate financial disclosure statements, and failing to pay taxes; and current U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) being reprimanded and stripped of committee assignments for posting a video on social media depicting himself as an anime character attacking President Joe Biden and killing U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). Both censures were carried out when the House was under Democratic control.
Santos is slated to be sworn into Congress later today as the representative of New York’s 3rd Congressional District, representing parts of Long Island and Queens, becoming the first out gay Republican to be elected to Congress as a non-incumbent.
Santos currently faces scrutiny over alleged irregularities in his financial disclosure forms, and questions about his seemingly rapid accumulation of wealth. He lent his 2022 campaign $700,000, and claimed to have drawn a salary of $750,000 from his company, the Devolder Organization, in his most recent financial disclosure. He also reported owning millions of dollars in assets.
However, two years earlier, during his unsuccessful 2020 congressional campaign, Santos reported having no assets and a salary of $55,000, according to Business Insider.
Additionally, Santos faces questions about his campaign spending, including $40,000 for flights and rent payments linked to an address where Santos is reported to be staying, which critics have alleged may run afoul of a ban on congressional candidates using campaign funds for personal expenses, according to The Hill.
Both federal and local authorities have announced investigations into Santos’s finances and financial disclosure filings, with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York confirming to CBS News that it has launched such a probe, and Anne Donnelly, a Republican district attorney for Nassau County, announcing a separate probe into allegations against the soon-to-be freshman congressman.
These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and MetroWeekly.com remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!