George Santos pleads not guilty to 13 counts of fraud

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Photo by Eduardo Munoz / Reuters
Photo by Eduardo Munoz / Reuters

George Santos, the Republican representative for New York's 3rd Congressional District, turned himself in on Wednesday, May 10, to face a variety of charges. Santos was released on a $500,000 bond and pleaded "not guilty" upon arraignment.

Santos is facing 13 charges in total, including wire fraud, money laundering, theft of public funds, and making false statements to Congress. If convicted, he could face up to 20 years in prison.

Nevertheless, Santos is still actively seeking reelection and refuses to resign, despite bipartisan calls from constituents. He claims the allegations are a "witch hunt" and looks forward to showcasing his ability to "address and defend" himself.

Photo by Shannon Stapleton Reuters  

What are the accusations?
One of the allegations Santos faces is lying on congressional disclosure forms. From June 2020 to April 2021, Santos claimed to be eligible for unemployment and received $24,744. However, during this time, he served as the regional director of an investment firm, Harbor City Capital, and made $120,000. The US government ultimately shut down the firm in 2021 after federal authorities determined it to be a Ponzi scheme.

The suit also charges Santos with filing for financial aid related to COVID-19. He was wired two $564 checks meant for Americans experiencing unemployment due to the pandemic. When asked why he signed up for unemployment despite remaining employed, Santos said he was confused due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

False unemployment relief is not the only dishonest disclosure form Santos is accused of filing. On a financial form for the House of Representatives, he reported an income of $750,000 from his family company, the Devolder Organization, as well as $1 million and $5 million in dividends. When investigators unsealed financial records on Wednesday, they found that Santos had not received that money.

Another accusation Santos faces is election fraud and embezzlement. In 2021 he founded the company Redstone Strategies in Florida. The business was branded as a campaign fund for his election bid and targeted wealthy donors. Redstone Strategies promised that the money would go toward television ads for Santos. Instead, he allegedly wired $74,000 to his own account, and reportedly used the funds to pay for designer clothes.

Photo by Jonathan Ernst / Reuters  

Does his party still support him?
Despite continued allegations against Santos, many in the Republican Party still back him. Santos' election flipped a Democratic seat in 2022, making his position critical in his party's effort to hold on to its slim majority of just four seats. Last month he cast a vote for a party-backed bill to tie a debt-limit extension to a ten-year deficit reduction. This bill passed by two votes.

While some Republicans, like Sen. Mitt Romney, have been outspoken about their disapproval of Santos and have even called for his resignation, his fellow representatives have remained adamant that they intend to let the legal process play out before initiating steps to force his resignation.

"In America, there's a presumption of innocence," said House Majority Leader Steve Scalise when asked to comment on the charges against Santos. "They're serious charges. He's going to have to go through the legal process."

Expulsion from the House of Representatives is rare. Since the Civil War, only two representatives have had to resign, and only after they were found guilty of federal charges.

Santos is continuing to prove his value to his party. Following his posting of bail, he returned to Washington DC, where he voted on a bill that would restrict more asylum seekers and increase border enforcement. The bill was a top priority for House Republicans.

Ironically, Santos also voted for a bill that increases state incentives to pursue unemployment fraud, just one day after being charged with that very crime.

House Democrats have accused Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy of refusing to expel Santos to keep the Republican majority intact. More than 36 Democrats in the House have signed a motion by Rep. Robert Garcia of California to remove Santos.

"[McCarthy] can barely keep his caucus together on votes, so it's clear that he's using George Santos' support to keep him in leadership," Garcia said. He is now urging Santos' fellow Republican representatives from New York to sign onto the motion.

Brazilian charges too
If 13 federal charges weren't enough, on Thursday, May 11, Santos signed an agreement with public prosecutors in Brazil to avoid prosecution for forging two checks in 2008.

In the agreement, Santos admitted to stealing a checkbook from his mother's employer in 2008, when he was 19, and purchasing $1,350 worth of goods. Per the agreement, Santos will pay almost $5,000. Most will go to the shopkeeper he swindled. The rest will be divided among Brazilian charities.

Charges were filed against him back in 2011, but he refused to answer any subpoenas, and authorities could not determine his whereabouts. In 2013 the case was suspended.

After Santos won his congressional election and gained media recognition for fabricating a false life story, Rio state prosecutors established his location and reopened the case.

Agreeing to the settlement may have been the only option for Santos, as he was required to suspend his passport following his arraignment and could not have appeared in court in Brazil to challenge the accusations.

How much is that doggy in the window?
The charges Santos faced last week are not his first. In 2017 the New York representative was charged with embezzlement and the use of false checks while heading Friends of Pets United, an animal shelter in New York City.

According to the allegations, Santos bought multiple puppies from dog breeders with checks totaling $15,000. When the checks bounced, the authorities contacted Santos. He claimed that a roommate stole his checkbook and must have made the purchases after he closed out his account.

His attorney at the time claimed that Santos was just as much a victim of fraud as the dog breeders, though shortly after, Friends of Pets United held a puppy adoption event at a New York City pet store, at which it pocketed hundreds of dollars per puppy.

Following the adoption event, Santos asked the pet store owner to write a check for the proceeds in his name. Instead, the store owner made the check payable to the shelter Santos was working for. The pet store owner later discovered in his bank records that "Friends of Pets United" had been blotted out and replaced with Santos' name.

While Santos was working in animal advocacy, a homeless veteran accused him of pocketing $3,000 he raised for his dying dog. In February, the FBI began investigating the case.

Only time will tell if George Santos will be charged with fraud, forced out of office, and convicted of multiple felonies. However, with each passing day, time seems to reveal more shocking truths about his colorful past.