U.S. Rep. George Santos, the sole LGBTQ Republican currently serving in Congress, has pleaded not guilty to a 13-count indictment charging him with wire fraud, money laundering, stealing public funds, and lying on federal campaign finance disclosure forms.
Santos, 34, who represents parts of Long Island and Queens, appeared in federal court in Long Island on Wednesday after surrendering to authorities earlier in the day.
At a 1 p.m. hearing, Santos pled not guilty and was released on a $500,000 bond.
He was also ordered to surrender his passport to prevent him from fleeing the United States, as he allegedly fled Brazil after being charged with using stolen checks to purchase $700 worth of clothing from a high-end shop on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro in 2008.
Santos will next appear in court on June 30.
According to prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, Santos was involved in three separate schemes.
The bulk of the 13-count indictment, obtained by The New York Times, alleges that Santos operated a dummy corporation that he used to defraud prospective political supporters.
Prosecutors claim he directed an unnamed political consultant to communicate with donors on his behalf, falsely telling them that the money they contributed to the company would be used to help elect Santos to Congress and purchase TV advertisements.
But once the contributions were received, the money was transferred into Santos’s personal bank accounts and used for personal reasons, including purchasing designer clothing, making cash withdrawals, paying off credit card debt, and transferring money to associates.
Santos also stands accused of applying for government assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite earning an annual salary of $120,000 from a Florida-based investment firm.
On the application for COVID-19 relief funds, submitted through the New York State Department of Labor in June 2020, Santos allegedly claimed to have been unemployed since March of that year.
From that point until April 2021 — while he continued to receive a salary from his investment firm job and during his first unsuccessful run for Congress — Santos falsely claimed to be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits, receiving more than $24,000.
Finally, prosecutors allege that Santos knowingly made false statements on financial disclosure forms during both of his congressional campaigns, in 2020 and 2022, in an attempt to mislead the U.S. House of Representatives and the public about his finances.
Among those false statements was the deliberate inflation of the salary he was receiving, a failure to disclose additional sources of income, and a misrepresentation of the balances in his checking and savings accounts.
For example, during his 2020 campaign, Santos allegedly claimed to have received $55,000 in salary, commission, and bonuses from a separate company — later determined to have been an inflated figure — and failed to disclose the salary he received from the Florida investment firm altogether.
During the 2022 campaign, Santos allegedly inflated the salary and dividends he claimed to be receiving from the Devolder Organization LLC, a Florida-based entity of which Santos was the sole beneficial owner.
He also allegedly misrepresented the amount of money in his checking and savings accounts and failed to disclose that, in 2021, he had received $28,000 from his previous employer. He did not report the $24,000 in unemployment insurance benefits he’d received from the state of New York.
If convicted of the charges against him, Santos could face up to 20 years in prison for some of the top counts, according to prosecutors. A federal judge will determine any sentence based on the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other factors only after a guilty verdict has been handed down.
Santos has yet to comment publicly on the charges against him. An inquiry from Metro Weekly seeking comment from his lawyer was not returned as of press time.
The investigation into Santos was spurred by a host of media stories reporting on several biographical fabrications that the first-term congressman made while on the campaign trail. He later admitted to some of those fabrications, including his educational and work history and his ancestry and family background.
He has also been accused of misrepresenting his charitable actions and falsely claiming connections to large-scale tragic historical events, such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks of 2001 and the 2016 Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, Florida.
Further investigations into Santos’s background soon raised questions about his personal finances and his campaign finance dealings, leading to investigations by both the U.S. Department of Justice and the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office, a complaint filed with the Federal Election Commission, and the launch of a House Ethics Committee probe looking into alleged campaign finance violations and an allegation of sexual misconduct made by a prospective office staffer who temporarily worked in Santos’s D.C. office.
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