This article was updated on Dec. 21, 2022.
George Santos maintained all through his recent U.S. House campaign that he, unlike other elected leaders, was committed to the “American Dream.”
But now Santos has moved into a position where he’s just days away from becoming a congressman might be a dream itself after an investigation by The New York Times concluded that much of his resume and education claims just don’t check out.
The openly gay Latino, born to Brazilian immigrants, is expected to represent the North Shore and parts of Queens in Washington when he’s sworn in Jan. 3 to succeed Democrat Tom Suozzi. But Santos has yet to answer claims by The Times that everything from his employment history to his philanthropic activity, where he graduated from college, and even his income history isn’t true.
Wall Street firms Citigroup and Goldman Sachs say Santos has never worked there. Baruch College can’t find records indicating he graduated from the school in 2010. And his animal rescue charity, Friends of Pets United, was never actually registered as a charity.
Santos claimed he was a true rags-to-riches story, coming from poverty only to become a high-powered financial executive. He even loaned his campaign $700,000, and thousands more to other campaigns, showing how successful he was.
But where that money came from is not clear, according to The Times. In 2020, he was making just $55,000 in annual salary, and had faced civil suits in previous years for thousands of dollars in unpaid rent. Yet this past year, his company — the Devolder Organization — paid him a salary of $750,000 and dividends of $1 million.
Devolder dissolved a short time later, after not filing an annual report with the state, according to Times reporters.
Santos has not responded to repeated requests for comment. But Joseph Murray, a Kew Gardens attorney who is representing him, said The Times’ story was a personal attack against his client.
“After four years in the public eye — and on the verge of being sworn in as a member of the Republican-led 118th Congress — The New York Times launches this shotgun blast of attacks,” Murray told the Herald in a statement. “It is no surprise that Congressman-elect Santos has enemies at The New York Times who are attempting to smear his good name with these defamatory allegations.”
Santos did not respond to The Times’s requests for comment, either.
And not everyone agrees with Murray. Nassau County Legislator Josh Lafazan, who lost to Santos’s challenger, Robert Zimmerman, in the Democratic congressional primary, said his phone was ringing off the hook.
“I am outraged, and my constituents are outraged,” Lafazan said. “Those who voted for him, and those who didn’t, called my office all morning. I’m calling on him to resign. He’s disqualified to run for dogcatcher, let alone serve in the U.S. Congress.”
Zimmerman, who lost the general election race last month to Santos by 8 percentage points, said he wasn’t surprised by what The Times had found.
“My campaign has been calling out George Santos’s scams and lies about himself for several months,” Zimmerman said in a statement. “The reality is Santos flat-out lied to the voters of (the 3rd Congressional District). He’s violated the public trust in order to win office, and does not deserve to represent Long Island or Queens.”
Politicians across the country have lied, Lafazan added, so no one is surprised by what The Times found. “But the level of egregiousness of this lie is unprecedented,” he said. “The House Ethics Committee could launch an investigation — and should.”
Suozzi declined a request to comment.
Sochie Nnaemeka, the director of the New York Working Families Party, took a broader approach on the Santos issue by condemning the Republican Party as “the party of extremists, insurrectionists — and now, outright frauds.”
Mineola attorney Grant Lally, of Lally & Misir, who ran unsuccessfully in 2014 on the Republican and Conservative Party ticket for what is now Santos’s seat, is counsel to the publisher of The Leader. The North Shore weekly published several articles about Santos prior to the election.
“We had received reports about sketchy and improper activities by George Santos for over a year,” Lally said. “His campaign disclosure filings are full of highly questionable receipts and disbursements, including an alleged $600,000 personal loan from him to his campaign when, just one year earlier, he claimed to be worth less than $5,000 in his personal financial disclosure.”
The Leader’s reporters found costly charges from restaurants, beach resorts, gas stations, Ubers, and shopping sprees at clothing stores that included Brooks Brothers. “This all appears to be personal expenses funded by his campaign money,” Lally said. “But most troubling was the $56,000 contribution from Andrew Intrater, the Russian moneyman for Viktor Vekselberg, a Putin oligarch crony who is under international sanctions, which appears to be illegal foreign money.”
A House Ethics Committee spokesman said he had no comment, other than to say that all information — even how the committee conducts investigations — is confidential.
Joseph Cairo, chairman of the Nassau County Republican Committee, called the claims raised against Santos serious, but added that Republicans would like him to have the opportunity to address them. “Every person deserves an opportunity to ‘clear’ his/her name in the face of accusations,” Cairo said in a written response to the Herald. “I am committed to this principle, and I look forward to the congressman-elect’s responses to the news reports.”
Tom Galasso, president of the Oyster Bay Republican Club, told the Herald he had not yet seen The Times’s story.
Jay Jacobs, the state Democratic Party leader — and a former Nassau County party head — said he was shocked by what he had read, and was certain that those who voted for Santos would be disappointed that he isn’t the person they thought he was.
“The House of Representatives has the sole right to seat or not seat a member,” Jacobs said. “If ever there was a reason not to seat a new member, this is it.”
But the Republican majority in the House will be slim, Jacobs added, so party leaders won’t look into the issues about Santos closely, although federal authorities may investigate his campaign finance issues.
“He’s a guy who couldn’t pay rent to two different landlords, but came up with hundreds of thousands to support campaigns,” Jacobs added. “He said it was his own money.”
Jacobs said he was certain that he would be blamed that Democrats did not release these details prior to the election but the party, he explained, doesn’t do opposition research.
Mike Deary, spokesman for the Republican Committee for Nassau County, said the party has a committee that conducts interviews with candidates. But Santos didn’t present any red flags during that process, so there was no review of his resume.
And, the Republican Party already knew Santos. “He was a candidate in 2020, and was presumptive to be the candidate in 2022,” Deary said. “When candidates come from the home county, we’ve had a longstanding relationship with them and know them intimately. He isn’t from here, but had a strong candidacy in 2020.”
If Santos’s seat becomes vacant for any reason, federal law requires a special election to fill it.