Santos pleads not guilty to federal indictment alleging wide-ranging financial crimes
The first-term Republican congressman from New York faces a 13-count indictment.
NEW YORK — Rep. George Santos pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to federal charges of wire fraud, money laundering and theft of public funds.
He was released on a $500,000 bond after surrendering to authorities earlier in the day.
In a 13-count indictment, federal prosecutors accused Santos, a first-term Republican from New York, of fraudulently obtaining unemployment benefits, using campaign contributions to pay down personal debts and purchase designer clothing, and lying to the House of Representatives about his financial condition.
“This indictment seeks to hold Santos accountable for various alleged fraudulent schemes and brazen misrepresentations,” U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York Breon Peace said in a statement. “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.
Santos, 34, entered his plea at the federal courthouse in Central Islip, New York.
Following the arraignment, Santos said he doesn’t plan to resign and intends to continue running for reelection. “I’m going to fight the witch hunt,” he said. “I’m going to take care of clearing my name.”
His next court appearance is set for June 30.
Prosecutors allege Santos engaged in three schemes. In the first, according to the indictment, Santos directed a Queens-based political consultant to speak to prospective donors and ask them to donate to a limited-liability company supporting his campaign. As a result, two donors each gave $25,000, prosecutors allege. Rather than going to Santos’ political efforts, however, the money was then transferred to his personal bank accounts and eventually used for personal expenses including paying personal debts, withdrawing cash and purchasing luxury clothing, according to the indictment.
In the second scheme, Santos applied for and received more than $24,000 in unemployment benefits even though he was employed as a regional director of a Florida-based investment firm, where he earned an annual salary of $120,000, according to prosecutors.
And in the third, he made false statements to the House of Representatives, misleading Congress and the public about his financial condition, according to the indictment. In May 2020, during his first campaign for office, he filed two disclosures in which he failed to disclose his compensation from the investment firm and over-reported the amount he earned from another company, prosecutors said.
And in September 2022, during his second congressional campaign, he overstated his income and assets on another disclosure form while also failing to disclose that he received about $28,000 from the investment firm and more than $20,000 in unemployment benefits.
The charges against Santos come after months of questions surrounding the New York Republican. Santos, who captured a Long Island swing seat last November, pioneered a new kind of political scandal by fabricating his entire campaign biography. His claims about working for Goldman Sachs, having Jewish ancestry and even running pet charities were largely untrue. Santos has claimed he merely embellished his resume but never did anything unlawful.
In addition to the federal charges out of New York, Santos is facing a House ethics investigation into possible “unlawful activity” related to his run as well as probes by the New York attorney general and two state district attorneys.
He recently brokered a deal to settle Brazilian charges tied to a 2008 fraud case involving the theft of $1,300 in clothes and shoes, according to CNN.
Santos has vowed to stay in office, saying only the voters could force him out, much to the displeasure of New York Republicans who view him as a stain on their party.
Still, House leadership has largely kept quiet about Santos, as he remains a crucial vote for their razor-thin majority.
On the Hill Wednesday morning, only one GOP member was moved by the indictment.
“The people of New York’s 3rd district deserve a voice in congress,” tweeted Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas), a centrist from a battleground district. “George Santos should be immediately expelled from Congress and a special election initiated at the soonest possible date.”
Gonzales’ statement made him just the second House Republican outside New York to call for Santos to leave Congress. The other is Rep. Max Miller (R-Ohio).
But GOP leaders appeared perfectly in line on their position to let the charges play out in the courts. Typically, a member facing criminal charges would be stripped of committee assignments — but GOP leaders noted that Santos has already lost his.
“He was already removed from his committees,” Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) said at a press conference Wednesday. “In America, there’s a presumption of innocence. But these are serious charges. He’s going to have to face the charges.”
When asked about Santos on Tuesday, Speaker Kevin McCarthy also cited past cases of members being charged, saying that he only pushed for such members to resign once they were found guilty. As an example, he pointed to former Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) who was sentenced to two years of probation last year for lying to federal investigators about illegal campaign contributions.
In a four-seat majority, this approach buys them time. It could take years for the charges against Santos to be decided in court. Some House Republicans, however, made the point that GOP leadership would stick to this position no matter the size of the majority.
“[The four-seat majority] is always in the back of everybody’s mind, but I think under these circumstances, McCarthy is going to let it play out. If we have a 20 to 25 seat majority, I think it would be the same situation. I really do,” said Rep. Dan Meuser (R-Pa.) in response to the news. “Let the proceedings proceed.”
Other Republicans shrugged at the news, arguing that they have more pressing issues to address.
“I haven’t thought about it,” said Rep. Patrick McHenry, chair of the House Financial Services Committee.
“I don’t give him much thought,” echoed Meuser, who added: “We got a lot of characters here, but he’s ridiculous. He’s a liar — a serial liar.”
Erica Orden and Julia Marsh reported from New York. Olivia Beavers reported from Washington.