The latest chapter in the unfolding story of alleged lies and fraudby U.S. Rep. George Santos may just be the darkest one yet.
Richard Osthoff, a United States Navy veteran, claims that in 2016 Santos, going by the alias Anthony Devolder, stole $3,000 from a GoFundMe project to save the life of the then-homeless veteran’s service dog, Sapphire, who ultimately died.
In response to the claim, Nassau County Legislator Josh Lafazan held a press conference Jan. 19 condemning Santos’ alleged theft and calling on Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy to remove Santos from Congress.
“I’m here to say that this is the final straw,” Lafazan said. “That dog ended up dying, and this veteran, who already had PTSD, is scarred for life.”
Mitch Farman, a Vietnam War veteran and resident of Oyster Bay, joined Lafazan in his condemnation of the embattled Republican congressman. Farman pointed out that not only were Santos’ actions contemptible, but the fact that he’s become a pariah on Long Island means he won’t be able to fulfill his duties to his constituents, including the many veterans and veteran organizations who rely on Congress for funding and aid.
“Twenty veterans a day commit suicide in this country,” Farman said. “What George Santos did here is despicable; what he’s done all along is despicable.”
Lafazan explained that he has also set up a GoFundMe for Paws of War, an animal protection organization that trains and provides service dogs for veterans suffering for PTSD. The project’s goal is to raise $3,000, the same amount allegedly stolen by Santos, and can be found at gofundme.com/f/raise-3000-for-paws-of-war.
The National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum released a new line of Santos-themed bobbleheads on Jan. 25 to help raise money for dog-related GoFundMe campaigns as well. The Museum says it will be donating $5 from every bobblehead sold, some of which have elongated noses to accentuate Santos’ Pinocchio-like problem with lying.
Veterans from around the North Shore expressed their disgust towards Santos regarding his alleged treatment of Osthoff and Sapphire. Lou Legeri, a Vietnam veteran and member of American Legion Post 336 in Glenwood Landing, claimed he was shocked that a human being could even contemplate such an act.
“(Santos is) the lowest form of human being, to do that to somebody in that situation,” Legeri said. “He sets the record for lowering the bar, lowering the standard of decency.”
Service dogs like Sapphire are in many cases essential to improving the mental health of veterans struggling with PTSD. In addition to providing emotional and mental support, they can provide veterans in extreme circumstances with a reason to get out of bed in the morning.
Fred Nielsen, another member of American Legion Post 336, emphasized the dangers of ignoring the negative impacts of PTSD in veterans.
“That violation of trust brings this veteran more closely associated to suicide ideation in his health, so the wrongs done here had many layers and cover many topics,” Nielsen said. “Anyone who cares at all about veterans has got to sanction Santos so we can pull him out of office.”
Tony Jimenez, a Vietnam veteran and director of Veteran Affairs for Glen Cove, said he’s seen firsthand the positive impact service dogs can have on veterans suffering from PTSD.
“I thought it was a disgrace,” Jiminez said. “Anytime that a veteran who put his life on the line for the country and needs a little help, if somebody takes something away from them, they’re the lowest of the low.”
These allegations are particularly concerning for veterans’ organizations, which often rely on their representatives to provide much-needed funding.
Bill Laderer, commander of American Legion Post 336, expressed concern for Santos’ ability to serve any of his constituents, let alone the district’s veterans.
“The man has done such an injustice, lied through his teeth about everything, and now is expecting the people in government to work with him,” Laderer said. “This is a pathetic miscarriage of justice as far as I’m concerned.”
Additionally, Santos continues to struggle with mounting condemnation from local and national politicians on both sides of the aisle.
His claims to being a descendant of Jewish refugees from the Holocaust have been roundly disproven through genealogical research by the Jewish news source Forward.
Furthermore, the New York Times recently broke the news that Santos’ mother was not in New York during the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center. He had previously claimed that his mother, Fatima Devolder, was a high-level executive who worked in one of the towers that day. Santos has given conflicting statements that his mother’s death was directly caused by the tragedy.
His campaign finances have come under particular scrutiny, with at least four separate investigations launched against him, including one from the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office. Santos apparently lent his own campaign $705,000, despite apparently only having made $50,000 in 2020.