U.S. Rep. George Santos, the New York Republican infamous for fabricating key parts of his life story, was arrested Wednesday on federal criminal charges ahead of an expected court appearance.
The indictment says Santos induced supporters to donate to a company under the false pretense that the money would be used to support his campaign. Instead, it says, he used it for personal expenses, including luxury designer clothes and to pay off his credit cards.
Santos also is accused of lying about his finances on congressional disclosure forms and applying for and receiving unemployment benefits while he was employed as regional director of an investment firm and running for Congress.
U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said the indictment “seeks to hold Santos accountable for various alleged fraudulent schemes and brazen misrepresentations.”
“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,” Peace said.
Santos was taken into custody Wednesday at a federal courthouse on Long Island and was expected to make an initial court appearance later in the day.
Reached by the AP on Tuesday, Santos said he was unaware of the charges.
Santos was elected to Congress last fall after a campaign built partly on falsehoods. He told people he was a wealthy Wall Street dealmaker with a substantial real estate portfolio who had been a star volleyball player in college, among other things. In reality, he didn’t work at the big financial firms he claimed had employed him, didn’t go to college and had struggled financially before his run for public office.
Questions about his finances also surfaced. In regulatory filings, Santos said he loaned his campaign and related political action committees more than $750,000, but it was unclear how he would have come into that kind of wealth so quickly after years in which he struggled to pay his rent and faced multiple eviction proceedings.
In a financial disclosure form, Santos reported making $750,000 a year from a family company, the Devolder Organization, but the charges unsealed Wednesday allege that Santos never received that sum, nor the $1 million and $5 million in dividends he listed as coming from the firm.
Santos has described the Devolder Organization as a broker for sales of luxury items like yachts and aircraft. The business was incorporated in Florida shortly after Santos stopped working as a salesman for a company accused by federal authorities of operating an illegal Ponzi scheme.
Many of Santos’ fellow New York Republicans called on him to resign after his history of fabrications was revealed. Some renewed their criticism of him as news of the criminal case spread.
“Listen, George Santos should have resigned in December. George Santos should have resigned in January. George Santos should have resigned yesterday. And perhaps he’ll resign today. But sooner or later, whether he chooses to or not, both the truth and justice will be delivered to him,” said U.S. Rep. Marc Molinaro, a Republican representing parts of upstate New York.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., was more circumspect, saying “I think in America, you’re innocent till proven guilty.”
Santos has faced criminal investigations before.
When he was 19, he was the subject of a criminal investigation in Brazil over allegations he used stolen checks to buy items at a clothing shop. Brazilian authorities said they have reopened the case.
In 2017, Santos was charged with theft in Pennsylvania after authorities said he used thousands of dollars in fraudulent checks to buy puppies from dog breeders. That case was dismissed after Santos claimed his checkbook had been stolen, and that someone else had taken the dogs.
Federal authorities have separately been looking into complaints about Santos work raising money for a group that purported to help neglected and abused pets. One New Jersey veteran accused Santos of failing to deliver $3,000 he had raised to help his pet dog get a needed surgery.