Crime and Courts

Rep. George Santos Charged by Justice Department on Federal Offenses: Sources

It was not immediately clear what charges Santos is facing and no documents have been made public as yet, sources said

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Rep. George Santos, the New York congressman whose lies and embellishments about his resume and personal life have drawn deep scrutiny and mockery, has been charged by federal prosecutors, according to three sources familiar with the matter.

Santos, whose district covers part of Long Island and Queens, is expected to appear in federal court in Central Islip Wednesday afternoon, sources told NBC New York, and plans to hold a press conference afterward. He could surrender to authorities at the courthouse in the morning, but sources told NBC News it is not expected he will be seen at that time.

It was not immediately clear what charges Santos is facing from the Justice Department and no documents have been made public as yet, sources told NBC News. The charges against Santos, filed in the Eastern District of New York, remain under seal until he appears in court.

A lawyer for the Republican congressman has not returned requests for comment regarding the charges, nor has his office. Santos' office in Queens was empty Tuesday night. When reached by the Associated Press, Santos said of the charges: “This is news to me.”

“You’re the first to call me about this,” he said in the brief phone interview.

Spokespeople for Brooklyn U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI declined to comment on the matter.

A Long Island prosecutor had previously been investigating whether Santos defrauded supporters and the New York attorney general’s office had previously said it was looking into possible violations of the law. The Federal Election Commission has repeatedly flagged problems with Santos’ campaign finance reports. Sources familiar with the matter previously told NBC News that Santos was being investigated by the U.S. Attorney’s office for possible campaign finance violations.

The nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center lodged a complaint with the FEC and urged regulators to investigate Santos. The “mountain of lies” Santos propagated during the campaign about his life story and qualifications, the center said, should prompt the commission to “thoroughly investigate what appear to be equally brazen lies about how his campaign raised and spent money.”

Bronx Rep. Ritchie Torres said the charges are "long overdue," calling Santos "a pathological liar and lawbreaker who lied to the voters of New York State and defrauded his way into the United States Congress.

"One thing is crystal clear – either Rep. Santos must resign or House Republican leadership, under Speaker Kevin McCarthy, must summon the courage to join House Democrats in expelling him," the statement from Torres went on to say. "Rep. Santos is a deep rot of corruption at the core of Congress."

Republican Rep. Mike Lawler, from the Hudson Valley, said in a brief statement that "I reiterate my call for George Santos to step down." Fellow Republican Congressman Anthony D'Esposito echoed those sentiments, saying "as a retired NYPD detective, I am confident the justice system will fully reveal Congressman Santos' long history of deceit, and I once again call on this serial fraudster to resign from office."

Legally speaking, Santos is allowed to stay in office as he fights the charges. Even if he is convicted, and the charges call for two or more years in prison, the rules of the House of Representatives state that he wouldn't technically have to leave office, he just would not be allowed to vote on the House floor or in committee.

House Speaker Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy said during a press conference that Santos is not on any committees, and likened the situation to the one New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez was in when he was indicted. McCarthy said that Menendez was able to stay on as part of the Senate and voted during the time, so it did not appear likely that McCarthy would be looking to expel Santos any time soon.

"We'll just follow the same pattern we always have, right? If a person is indicted, they’re not on committees, they have a right to vote, they go to trial," the House Speaker said.

McCarthy has said Santos should have his day in court. That first day in court could come Wednesday, when Santos is expected to be fingerprinted and have his mugshot taken in the morning, then appear in a federal courtroom after 1 p.m.

In March, the House Ethics Committee announced that it was launching an investigation into the embattled representative. That investigation appeared to be far reaching, seeking to determine whether Santos "may have engaged in unlawful activity with respect to his 2022 congressional campaign” among other actions, the committee said in a statement.

The panel was also said to be looking into whether Santos "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," the statement said.

Santos is allowed to stay in office while he faces charges. He had already removed himself from his committee assignments but otherwise has refused calls from many (including Republicans) in New York to step down from office. On Twitter, his office previously said that he is “fully cooperating” with the Ethics probe and would not comment further.

The committee could recommend expulsion, the sternest form of punishment the House can impose, an action it has used only five times in more than two centuries and never when it comes to conduct that took place before a member was sworn into office. At least two-thirds of the House must vote for expulsion for it to occur.

Santos admitted that he lied about key parts of his background, including his job experience and college education, after The New York Times raised questions in December about the life story that he presented during his campaign. A local newspaper, the North Shore Leader, had raised issues about Santos’ background before the election but it was not until a few weeks after the election that the depth of his duplicity became public.

“My sins here are embellishing my resume. I’m sorry,” Santos told the New York Post in the wake of the Times' story.

He has refused to resign, despite polls from his own constituents overwhelmingly showing they want him to step down. Perhaps most damningly, a vast majority of those who actually cast ballots for Santos just last November said they would not have if they knew the truth.

In total, some 78% of registered voters in New York's 3rd District want Santos to resign, the Newsday/Siena College poll found in late January. That includes 89% of Democrats, 72% of independents and 71% of his own Republican voters.

In fact, Siena pollsters sliced the respondents up 18 different ways, including by age, geography, religion and income -- and in every single one of the 18 demographic slices, at least 70% of those polled wanted Santos to quit.

Only 13% of those polled say Santos should not resign — and only 7% say they have an explicitly favorable view of the first-term congressman.

But not only has Santos refused to resign, he has spent much of his time in Congress rewriting the narrative surrounding him — even saying boldly and without a hint of irony in March that “I think truth still matters very much." In April, Santos announced that he would seek reelection. The press release from his team didn't mention any of the many controversies, instead portraying him as a "dependable conservative vote" and noting he is the first openly gay Republican elected to the House.

The Nassau County Republican Committee, which had supported his candidacy, said it would not support Santos for reelection.

A Democratic PAC is spending $45 million in New York state alone for the 2024 cycle, focusing intently on Santos' district and a half-dozen others as the party works to regain majority control of the chamber. CNBC reported that Santos may soon face his first Democratic challenger: former Democratic Rep. Tom Suozzi, who previously represented the district.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, and Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., were seen before President Joe Biden's State of the Union Address having an exchange on the House floor. A lawmaker close to the exchange told NBC News that he overheard Romney telling Santos that he does not belong in Congress.

Some of Santos' 'Embellishments'

Santos said he obtained a degree in finance and economics from Baruch College in New York, but the school said there was nothing to confirm that claim. Santos had also said he had worked for Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, but neither company could find any records verifying that.

He seemingly invented a life story that has also come under question. A Jewish news outlet, The Forward, questioned a claim on Santos’ campaign website that his grandparents “fled Jewish persecution in Ukraine, settled in Belgium, and again fled persecution during WWII.” During his campaign, Santos referred to himself as “a proud American Jew.”

Confronted with questions about that story, Santos, a Roman Catholic, said he never intended to claim Jewish heritage.

“I never claimed to be Jewish,” Santos told the Post. “I am Catholic. Because I learned my maternal family had a Jewish background I said I was ‘Jew-ish.’”

The New York Times also uncovered records in Brazil that show Santos, when he was 19, was the subject of a criminal investigation there in 2008 over allegations he used stolen checks to buy items at a clothing shop in the city of Niteroi, which is near Rio de Janeiro. Brazilian authorities said they have reopened the case.

Perhaps the most serious questions facing Santos involve the personal fortune he claims to have used to finance his campaign. In his filings with the FEC, Santos initially said he loaned his campaign and related political action committees more than $750,000 — money he claimed came from a family company.

The underlying question remains how Santos earned the money, as the wealth necessary to make those loans seems to have emerged from nowhere. Despite his false claims of having worked for big, international banks, he was having financial problems up until a few years ago that led to multiple eviction proceedings from New York City apartments. Court records indicate Santos was the subject of three eviction proceedings in Queens between 2014 and 2017 because of unpaid rent.

When Santos first ran for Congress in 2020, his financial disclosure form listed a modest $55,000 salary from a financial company and no significant assets.

After he lost that race, he took a job selling investments in a company that the Securities and Exchange Commission later accused of being a Ponzi scheme.

Last summer, Santos filed a financial disclosure report suggesting an explosion in his personal wealth.

Santos reported he was making $750,000 per year from his own company, the Devolder Organization, had $1 million to $5 million in savings and owned an apartment in Brazil worth up to $1 million. Santos has yet to fully answer questions about how he got so rich so quickly. In an interview with Semafor, Santos said he worked as a consultant for “high net worth individuals,” helping broker the sale of luxury items like yachts and planes.

Associated Press reporters Michael Balsamo, Farnoush Amiri and Jake Offenhartz contributed to this report.

Copyright NBC New York/Associated Press
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