Rep. George Santos (R-NY) leaves a GOP caucus meeting on Capitol Hill on January 25, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
Rep. George Santos was elected to the House in November, but not even two months into his two-year term, his legal problems are piling up. After his election to a House seat in New York last year, Santos was exposed for lying about large portions of his resumé, including where he went to school and where he worked. Several state and local prosecutors said in December that they were probing Santos’s embellishments to see if he’d broken any laws, though no charges have been brought thus far.
But he’s also facing scrutiny for legal problems in both the U.S. and Brazil, including long standing allegations of fraud and theft, as well as numerous potential campaign finance violations. Santos has admitted embellishing some parts of his resumé but denied breaking the law. He admitted in an interview with Piers Morgan Sunday that he’s been a “terrible liar on some subjects,” but claimed he didn’t lie to “trick the people” and only embellished his resumé in order to be taken seriously by the local GOP.
New York Republicans have called for his resignation and reportedly have begun plotting a primary challenge, but Santos continues to insist that he’ll finish his term. No charges have been brought against Santos thus far, but if you’re having trouble keeping track of all of his legal issues and reported investigations, here’s a handy list to keep you updated. (Santos’ lawyer, Joe Murray, did not respond to a list of questions about these issues.)
Earlier this month, former aide Derek Myers accused Santos of sexually harassing him, saying that when the two were alone in Santos’s office the congressman “proceeded to take his hand and move it down my leg into my inner-thigh and proceeded to touch my groin.” Myers also said Santos told him his husband was out of town and told the staffer where he lived.Myers claimed he was offered a job in January and began working in the office without pay that month with the promise of full employment as soon as his onboarding paperwork came through. But the offer was ultimately rescinded five days after the alleged harassment—purportedly over Myers’ previous employment as a journalist, during which he was charged with felony wiretapping for publishing courtroom audio, in a case denounced by press freedom advocates.
Sexual harassment and ethics complaint
Myers said in a tweet that he filed a complaint with the Capitol Police and House Ethics Committee alleging misconduct.
Joe Murray, Santos’s personal attorney, declined comment to VICE News on Myers’ allegations. Santos described the allegations as “comical.”“Let me make it clear, if there was remote[ly] any part of that that were true, he should’ve led with that and not begged for a job that we decided to pull from him for being accused of doing exactly what he did to us,” Santos told CBS News on Feb. 6.
Santos was hired by a Florida-based investment firm called Harbor City Capital in 2020, under the name “George Devolder,” one of his several aliases. The company’s assets were frozen the following year, after the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) said the CEO misused investor money and called the company’s operations “in a classic Ponzi scheme fashion.”Santos has not been accused of any wrongdoing in relation to Harbor City Capital’s operations. But in January, the Washington Post published a story detailing Santos’s meetings and conversations with some potential investors, which one likened to the Martin Scorcese mob movie “Goodfellas.”
Harbor City Capital
Tiffany Bogosian, a childhood friend of Santos, and a lawyer whose client experienced the Santos pitch, told CBS News she and her client were interviewed by SEC investigators after that story ran. Santos has denied having any knowledge of wrongdoing while he worked at Harbor City Capital, and his lawyer has declined comment. In an email, an SEC spokesperson told VICE News that the commission “does not comment on the existence or nonexistence of a possible investigation.”
A disabled and then-unhoused veteran named Richard Osthoff said that in 2016, he sought help from Santos and his charity Friends of Pets United for veterinary bills to remove a tumor afflicting his service dog. But after raising thousands of dollars on GoFundMe, Santos allegedly refused to give Osthoff the money and stopped communicating with him. The dog eventually died due to complications from the tumor. The charity, Friends of Pets United, has never been registered with the Internal Revenue Service, the New York Times reported in December. Santos has denied Osthoff’s claim, calling it “shocking and insane.”
But a GoFundMe spokesperson told VICE News last month that after the company received a complaint, GoFundMe “sought proof of the delivery of funds” with the fundraiser. Santos “failed to respond” and the account was closed, with the email banned from fundraisers, the spokesperson said.
Osthoff said earlier this month that he had spoken with agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and turned over his text messages with Santos. “I’m glad to get the ball rolling with the big-wigs,” Osthoff told Politico. “I was worried that what happened to me was too long ago to be prosecuted.” (The FBI has not confirmed the existence of an investigation.)
Santos has had more dog problems in his past. In 2020, he was reportedly charged with theft in Pennsylvania stemming from a 2017 incident where he allegedly purchased more than $15,000 worth of puppies from Amish farmers using checks that later bounced.Santos reportedly claimed that the nonpayments were made using a stolen checkbook, and with the help of Bogosian, got the charges dropped. But a few days after one check for $700 was made out, Friends of Pets United held a dog adoption event at a Staten Island pet store.One of the farmers recounted his encounter with a man believed to be Santos last week, in an interview with CNN. “He says, ‘We are going to take that puppy and that puppy,’” the farmer told CNN. “And his assistant grabs the two puppies, takes them out the door, and he pulls out a check. I was like, ‘Oh no, is this guy going to pay me with a check?’ I was very suspicious.”
Amish dog theft charges
Bogosian told Politico earlier this month she came to doubt Santos’s claim that he was innocent of the bad check charge, after her client met with him about investing in Harbor City Capital and she believed Santos was trying to rip her client off. “I was so pissed,” Bogosian told the Washington Post last month as she described the meeting. “He did this nice show and dance. Everyone at the restaurant knew it. It felt like this was a routine he did. Like this was not the first time.”
In 2008, Santos allegedly spent $700 at a clothing store near Rio de Janeiro using a stolen checkbook and an alias, and then over the next few years admitted to the theft on a social media website and to the shop owner and police, according to the New York Times. By the time charges were approved against Santos in 2011, however, he was already in the United States and Brazilian authorities could not locate an address for him. But in January, prosecutors in Brazil said they would inform the U.S. Department of Justice that they intended to revive the case against Santos.
Brazilian fraud charges
Santos now denies he committed the fraud, telling WABC Radio in New York in December that he is “not a criminal. Not here, not abroad, in any jurisdiction in the world have I ever committed any crimes.” His lawyer Joe Murray said in January that he was “in the process of engaging local counsel to address this alleged complaint against my client.”
Of all of these problems, perhaps the biggest threat to Santos’s continued membership in Congress is questions surrounding how he funded his campaign.The nonpartisan watchdog Campaign Legal Center filed a complaint against Santos with the Federal Election Commission in January, alleging that Santos “appears to have violated federal campaign finance laws by knowingly and willfully concealing the true sources of his campaign’s funding, misrepresenting how his campaign spent its money, and illegally paying for personal expenses with campaign funds.”In FEC filings during the campaign, Santos had said he’d lent more than $700,000 of his own personal funds to the campaign. But the Campaign Legal Center’s complaint challenged where, exactly, that money came from—and in an amended filing with the FEC a few weeks later, Santos unchecked a box indicating he’d loaned his campaign the money. It’s still not clear where the money actually came from. Santos also made more than three dozen payments of $199.99 using campaign money, exactly one cent under the threshold legally requiring campaigns to keep a receipt of the transaction. While more than 90 percent of campaigns in 2022 didn’t report a single transaction between $199 and $200 during 2022, Santos recorded 40 such transactions, Politico reported in January. In total, Santos’ 2022 campaign racked up more than $365,000 in unexplained spending, the New York Times reported last week. A separate FEC complaint filed last week by the liberal nonprofit End Citizens United also charged that a Santos aide impersonated Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s chief of staff while soliciting contributions for Santos, as CNBC reported in January. And there are numerous instances of Santos reporting more in contributions to other federal and New York state Republican candidates than those candidates reported receiving, the New York Times reported last month.The Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section has reportedly asked the FEC to not issue enforcement actions against Santos, indicating a potential criminal probe into the Congressman, the Washington Post reported last month. Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.