Rep. George Santos pleads not guilty to a 13-count federal indictment

Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., pleaded not guilty at a Long Island courthouse Wednesday to a 13-count federal indictment unsealed by the Justice Department.

Santos, 34, who surrendered into custody Wednesday morning, has been charged with seven counts of wire fraud, three counts of money laundering, one count of theft of public funds and two counts of making materially false statements to the House of Representatives, according to the Justice Department.

He pleaded not guilty at an 11-minute hearing and was released on $500,000 bond. Santos must submit to pretrial services, have random monitoring at his home and surrender his passport, and any travel outside New York state and Washington, D.C., must be approved by the court.

He’s due in court again June 30.

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Speaking to reporters after his arraignment, Santos characterized some of the charges as “inaccurate” and expressed confidence that he would be able to clear his name.

He said that he doesn’t plan to resign from Congress and that he still plans to run for re-election next year, which he had announced last month, despite calls for him to resign and the ongoing investigations he has faced at the federal, state and local levels. Santos also said he was facing a “witch hunt.”

On Wednesday evening, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said he would not back Santos’ re-election bid.

“No, I’m not gonna support Santos,” McCarthy, R-Calif., told reporters on Capitol Hill. “I think he’s got some other things to focus on in this life than running for stuff.”

McCarthy has not called on Santos to resign, saying he wants him to have his day in court. “He will go through his time in trial and let’s find out how the outcome is,” McCarthy said earlier Wednesday.

The federal indictment accuses Santos, a first-term lawmaker who represents New York’s 3rd Congressional District, of engaging in three schemes.

In the first alleged scheme, prosecutors said, he defrauded prospective political supporters in September by enlisting a Queens-based political consultant — described in court documents as “Person #1” — to communicate with possible donors on Santos’ behalf.

“Santos allegedly directed Person #1 to falsely tell donors that, among other things, their money would be used to help elect Santos to the House, including by purchasing television advertisements,” the Justice Department said.

Two unnamed contributors then each transferred $25,000 to a bank account Santos controlled, prosecutors said. Santos allegedly used much of the money for personal expenses, including buying designer clothing, paying down debt and making a car payment.

In the second alleged scheme, Santos is accused of engaging in unemployment insurance fraud beginning in 2020 by applying for unemployment benefits that were made available to out-of-work people during the pandemic.

Santos applied for the money even though he was employed as the regional director of a Florida-based investment firm, where he earned an annual salary of $120,000, according to the indictment.

He falsely claimed that he had been unemployed since March 2020, the Justice Department alleged. From then to April 2021, when Santos was receiving a salary, he “falsely affirmed each week that he was eligible for unemployment benefits when he was not,” it said.

“As a result, Santos allegedly fraudulently received more than $24,000 in unemployment insurance benefits,” the Justice Department said.

Santos told reporters Wednesday that the charge alleging he applied for unemployment benefits while receiving a $120,000 salary was “inaccurate.”

In the third alleged scheme, Santos misled the House and the public about his financial situation during his two congressional campaigns, the Justice Department said.

During his first campaign, in May 2020, Santos allegedly overstated his income and failed to disclose the salary he received from the investment firm, according to the indictment. For his campaign last year, Santos also allegedly overstated his income and assets in financial disclosure documents, including claiming he received a $750,000 salary from his Florida-based company, the Devolder Organization LLC, as well as dividends.

“These assertions were false: Santos had not received from the Devolder Organization LLC the reported amounts of salary or dividends and did not maintain checking or savings accounts with deposits in the reported amounts,” the Justice Department said.

In March, the House Ethics Committee opened an investigation that it said would determine whether Santos “engaged in unlawful activity with respect to his 2022 congressional campaign; failed to properly disclose required information on statements filed with the House; violated federal conflict of interest laws in connection with his role in a firm providing fiduciary services; and/or engaged in sexual misconduct towards an individual seeking employment in his congressional office.”

Image: Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., speaks to the media outside the federal courthouse in Central Islip, N.Y., on May 10, 2023.
Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., speaks to the media outside the federal courthouse in Central Islip, N.Y., on Wednesday. Stefan Jeremiah / AP

If he is convicted, Santos could face up to 20 years in prison for “the top counts,” the Justice Department said, without specifying which counts those were. Prosecutors said the FBI has been investigating with assistance from the Nassau County district attorney’s office and the IRS.

In addition to the federal charges, Santos was recently accused of being the mastermind behind a credit card skimming scheme — which he has vehemently denied. He has also been accused of stealing thousands of dollars that were raised for a lifesaving operation for a veteran’s service dog, as well as lying that his mother was at the World Trade Center during the Sept. 11 attacks.

Santos first came under scrutiny after The New York Times published a bombshell investigation in December indicating that much of his résumé appeared to have been manufactured, including claims that he owned numerous properties, was previously employed by Goldman Sachs and Citigroup and had graduated from Baruch College.

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