Diana Mueller waited for hours on Wednesday to enter the Central Islip federal courthouse to see U.S. Rep. George Santos arraigned. The Glen Head resident was relieved to hear that the embattled congressman, who had been arrested that morning, was facing a 13-count indictment accusing him of wire fraud, money laundering, theft of public funds, and making materially false statements to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Mueller, who protested in Washington, D.C., against Santos this winter, said she had come to Suffolk County to see him face the music.
“I feel extremely confident he will be convicted for something,” Mueller said. “This is a step in the right direction as far as the legal process goes, and I know it takes a while. I’m patient.”
If convicted on the top counts, Santos could face up to 20 years in prison. He pleaded not guilty to all charges on Wednesday, with bail set at $500,000.
“This indictment seeks to hold Santos accountable for various alleged fraudulent schemes and brazen misrepresentations,” U.S. Attorney Breon Pearce stated in a news release. “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. He used political contributions to line his pockets, unlawfully applied for unemployment benefits that should have gone to New Yorkers who had lost their jobs due to the pandemic and lied to the House of Representatives.”
Will Murphy, a Democrat who announced that he would run to represent the 3rd Congressional District, was quick to respond to the news of the congressman’s arrest.
“I think the only people in our district that are upset about this are the imaginary ones in George Santos’ head,” the St. John’s University law professor said. “And now what we’re going to see is if (House Speaker) Kevin McCarthy is going to continue to be a spineless coward clinging to power, or if he’s going to be an actual leader and allow the people of our district to have their say about it in a bipartisan way.”
Although McCarthy said on Wednesday that he was concerned about Santos, he added that he had no plans to tell him to resign unless he was found guilty.
Republican Kellen Curry, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan and a former vice president of JPMorgan Chase, announced his candidacy for Santos’ seat last month. Curry said he was concerned about the criminal charges filed against the congressman.
“While Santos parades around Washington enjoying his 15 minutes of fame, our interests go unaddressed and our phone calls continue to go unanswered,” Curry said. “The people of New York deserve a representative that truly wants to serve them.”
Federal prosecutors accuse Santos of operating a limited liability corporation during his 2022 congressional run, in which he allegedly enlisted a Queens-based political consultant to communicate with prospective donors on his behalf. According to prosecutors, Santos directed the consultant to tell donors the money would be used to help elect him to Congress, including purchasing television advertisements.
At least two contributors donated $25,000 each to the LLC’s bank account based on those statements, prosecutors said — a bank account controlled by Santos.
Once he got the money, Santos allegedly transferred the funds to his own bank accounts and used the money to buy designer clothing, to pay off debts and to give to friends.
But the charges Santos faces go back even further, prosecutors said. He was working as a regional director for a Florida-based investment firm in June 2020 — making $120,000 a year — when he applied for government unemployment assistance from the New York State Department of Labor department at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
Prosecutors say that Santos held on to that job until the following April. And even during his first run for Congress, in 2020, he collected both a paycheck and unemployment benefits — reportedly an additional $24,000 from the government.
During his two runs for Congress, Santos — like any congressional candidate — was required to file a financial disclosure statement with the House clerk. In these statements, candidates provide a complete accounting of their assets, income and liabilities, among other things.
Santos filed the form both times he ran, according to prosecutors. In 2020, he claimed he earned just $55,000, and that the only other compensation he received in excess of $5,000 was a bonus he received at his job.
Instead, prosecutors say, he overstated the income he received from that job, but failed to disclose the salary he was receiving from the Florida investment firm.
When he filed the same document in September 2022, he overstated his income and the value of his assets, according to prosecutors. Santos allegedly told Congress that he had earned $750,000 from Devolder Organization LLC, and between $1 million and $5 million in dividends from the company. He also reported a checking account with deposits between $100,000 and $250,000, and a savings account with between $1 million and $5 million.
Prosecutors say that none of that was true, and that Santos neither received, nor had in his accounts, that kind of money. Prosecutors also said he failed to disclose that in 2021, he had received $28,000 in income from the Florida investment firm and $20,000 in unemployment insurance.
“At the height of the pandemic in 2020, George Santos allegedly applied for and received unemployment benefits while he was employed and running for Congress,” Nassau County District Attorney Anne Donnelly stated in a release. “As charged in the indictment, the defendant’s alleged behavior continued during his second run for Congress when he pocketed campaign contributions and used that money to pay down personal debts and buy designer clothing.
“This indictment is the result of a lengthy collaboration between law enforcement agencies,” Donnelly continued, “and I thank our partners at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation for their dedication to rooting out public corruption.”
County Legislator Josh Lafazan, who lost the Democratic congressional primary to Robert Zimmerman — who lost in the general election to Santos — has held nearly a dozen news conferences decrying Santos’ continued representation of the 3rd C.D., demanding that he resign. Lafazan said that although the congressman’s arrest is cause for vindication, if he remains, “it sends a dark message about the state of our democratic system and it further erodes the trust that voters have in our democratic institutions.
“Until Santos is gone,” Lafazan added, “we will continue to lack a functioning member of Congress. My constituents in NY-03 are real people who need help with real life problems. They don’t have any more time to wait. The national embarrassment that is George Santos must come to an end immediately.”
Additional reporting by Michael Hinman.