U.S. Rep. George Santos was arrested this morning, turning himself in on 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, where he serves.
If convicted on the top counts, Santos could face up to 20 years in prison. Santos pleaded not guilty to the charges in a Central Islip court on Wednesday afternoon, with bail set at $500,000.
Afterward, Santos described the charges against him as a "witch hunt" — echoing words used by former president Donald Trump in his legal woes.
"We have an indictment," Santos said. "We have all the information that the government wants to come after me on. And I'm going to comply. I've been complying throughout this whole process. i have no desire not to comply at this point."
Santos did not answer specific questions about the charges, except that his employment "changed" during the Covid-19 pandemic, and that was why he applied for unemployment benefits in New York.
As for continuing to fight for re-election? Santos said yes.
"I will prove myself," Santos said, "and then we'll move from there. And re-election is a very far time away."
Federal prosecutors accuse Santos of operating a limited liability company during his 2022 congressional run, where he allegedly enlisted a Queens-based political consultant to communicate with prospective donors on his behalf. Santos, according to prosecutors, directed the consultant to tell donors the money would be used to help elect Santos 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, using the money for personal expenses like designer clothing, to pay off debts, and to give money to friends.
But the charges Santos faces go back even further, prosecutors said. Santos 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 through the New York state labor department at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Prosecutors say Santos held onto that job until the following April. And even during his first run for Congress would collect both a paycheck and unemployment benefits, reportedly, collecting an additional $24,000 from the government.
"This indictment seeks to hold Santos accountable for various alleged fraudulent schemes and brazen misrepresentations," U.S. Attorney Breon Pearce said, in a 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.
"My office and our law enforcement partners will continue to aggressively root out corruption and self-dealing from our community's public institutions, and hold public officials accountable to the constituents who elected them."
During his two runs for Congress, Santos — like any congressional candidate — is required to file a financial disclosure statement with the House clerk. In these statements, candidates provide a full and complete accounting of their assets, income and liabilities, among other things.
Santos filed this form twice — once during his 2020 run, and again in his successful 2022 campaign, according to prosecutors. In 2020, Santos claimed he earned just $55,000, and that the only other compensation he received in excess of $5,000 was a bonus he received from his job.
Instead, prosecutors say he overstated the income he received from that job, and completely failed to disclose the salary he was receiving from the Florida-based investment firm.
When he filed the same document in September 2022, he overstated how much income he received and the value of his assets, according to prosecutors. Santos allegedly told Congress he earned $750,000 from Devolder Organization LLC, as well as between $1 million and $5 million in dividends from the company.
Santos also reportedly told Congress he had a checking account with deposits between $100,000 and $250,000, and a savings account with between $1 million and $5 million.
Prosecutors, however, say none of that was true. Santos didn't receive that money, nor did he have that kind of money in his accounts. Prosecutors also said he failed to disclose that, in 2021, he 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," said Nassau County district attorney Anne Donnelly, 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, 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."
To read the full indictment against U.S. Rep. George Santos, click here.
Additional reporting by Ana Borruto, Will Sheeline and Michael Hinman— Last updated 5/10/23, 3:24 p.m.