U.S. Rep. George Santos pleaded not guilty to a 13-count federal indictment in a Central Islip court on Wednesday, where he faced charges of wire fraud, money laundering, theft of public funds, and making materially false statements to the U.S. House of Representatives.
If convicted of just the primary charges, Santos could face up to 20 years in prison. For now, however, the congressman was released on a $500,000 surety bond.
“The reality is, it’s a witch hunt,” Santos told reporters outside the courthouse following his arraignment. “I’m going to fight my battle. I’m going to deliver. I’m going to take care of clearing my name, and I look forward to doing that.”
Still, Santos made it clear he will not resign from Congress, and even still plans to run for re-election next year. When asked if he believes he will win re-election — especially now that he’s under criminal prosecution — Santos wasn’t sure.
“That’s not up for me to know,” he said. “Elections are very tricky, and it’s up to the people. I trust them to decide what is best for them.”
Dozens of reporters joined FBI agents, and officials from the U.S. Justice Department, the Nassau County district attorney’s office, the U.S. Attorney’s office and others, filling the courtroom to its brim before the arraignment. Joseph Murray, who represents Santos as an attorney, told reporters ahead of the congressman’s arrival that he was in “good spirits.”
The only person who appeared to be in the courtroom to support Santos was his operations manager, Vish Burra, who attended wearing a royal blue jacket and matching pants, along with a silver checkered tie and paisley pocket handkerchief.
When Santos entered the room, the commotion from the crowd ceased. The congressman scurried to his seat, with Murray giving him a reassuring hand on his shoulder as they reviewed the indictment documents.
Santos surrendered his passport to the FBI, and Magistrate Judge Anne Shields told the congressman he is not permitted to leave Long Island, Washington, D.C., or New York unless he receives the all-clear from court officials. Santos answered nearly every question with a subdued, “Yes ma’am,” and seemed content to let Murray take the lead during the arraignment.
Outside the courtroom, Santos told reporters he would deliver financial information about his company to the government to “dispel” the accusations.
He denied using campaign money to purchase what a reporter called “fancy suits.” Santos also described the process of surrendering to authorities as “amicable,” sharing that officers did a “phenomenal” job.
The congressman added he does his best to be a “positive person” and will continue to do so as he goes through this legal process.
“When it’s your first time experiencing something of this nature, I think everybody would show some kind of stress,” Santos said. “I quite frankly don’t believe I was stressed. I did my best to keep my composure — this has been an experience for a book. Or something like that.”