George Santos pleads not guilty to 13 federal counts of fraud and financial crimes
The Congressman surrendered to federal authorities in Long Island, Wednesday, May 10, and faces charges of wire fraud, money laundering, among other crimes.
In a wide ranging 13-count federal indictment, first-year Representative George Santos is facing three counts of money laundering, seven counts of wire fraud, one count of theft of public funds, and two counts of making false statements to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Federal prosecutors allege that the controversial lawmaker "devised and executed a scheme" aimed at defrauding donors to his successful 2022 political campaign.
The federal probe is a drastic change in fortune for Santos who, despite the many calls for resignation from fellow colleagues and the public regarding questions surrounding his background, personal wealth and campaign finances, looked untouchable, especially with the support of House Republicans and Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
Questions into Santos’ personal life intensified last December following the release of an extensive New York Times investigation — and subsequent outlets that began reporting — on the numerous lies about his upbringing, education, and work history he had told constituents on his way to winning a seat in Congress.
The New York congressman surrendered to federal authorities at a courthouse in suburban Long Island earlier Wednesday morning, May 10. Santos faces up to 20-years in prison.
He’s scheduled to go before a magistrate judge later this afternoon.
Santos, who represents a district that includes parts of Long Island and Queens, has been under investigation in several jurisdictions and by the House Ethics Committee.
Of the multiple schemes and lies he’s been attached to since first being elected, federal prosecutors based their indictment and investigation on three different scenarios.
"This indictment seeks to hold Santos accountable for various alleged fraudulent schemes and brazen misrepresentations," said U.S. Attorney Breon Peace for the Eastern District of New York. "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."
The 20-page indictment unsealed following Santos’ surrendering to authorities, focuses on allegations that the freshman lawmaker directed an unnamed political consultant to solicit contributions to a company that he falsely claimed was a political fund.
Prosecutors are arguing Santos used the money for lavish personal expenses, such as designer clothing purchases and paying off personal credit card payments.
Santos is also accused of fraudulently claiming unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic, with prosecutors alleging Santos received more than $24,000 in unemployment payments while simultaneously receiving a $120,000-a-year salary from a Florida-based investment firm.
Prosecutors allege that Santos knowingly made false statements in 2020 and 2022 on financial disclosure forms during both of his congressional campaigns, with the intention of misleading his fellow colleagues and the public about his finances.
According to the indictment, he also falsely inflated his salary during both campaigns and failed to disclose some income and lied about the balances in his checking and savings accounts.
Future in Congress?
Unfortunately for Santos’ opponents, this may not be the end of his time on Capitol Hill.
As nothing has been proven — and will not for a while — there is no law or precedent currently in place that would deny a Congressmember from continuing to serve while indicted. There are a handful of previous examples of lawmakers who stayed in office before later pleading guilty and resigning.
According to a Congressional Research Service report, “an indicted Member may continue to participate in congressional proceedings and considerations.”
If a member, however, were to be later convicted of a crime that could result in a punishment of two or more years in prison, under House rules, they could not participate in votes on the floor or in committee votes.
Speaker McCarthy spoke to reporters in the hours after the news broke, and commented on whether he would continue to support Santos by explaining his policy on if members of Congress should resign after being found guilty of charges. He cited former Republican Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, who resigned after being convicted of concealing information and making false statements to federal authorities in connection with a probe into illegal campaign contributions.
“Just like we had before with Jeff Fortenberry, he had the same ability. I removed him from committees, but he was found guilty and then I told him he needed to resign. That is my policies and principles on this,” McCarthy said
Santos pleaded not guilty to the 13-count indictment in front of a packed courtroom around 2:20 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon and is expected to hold a press conference later this afternoon or evening.
He was released on a $500,000 bond that was secured by three not publicly identified individuals, and will be confined to New York, Washington, D.C., and places in between.
Santos may travel to other places with advance approval. His next court appearance will be on June 30.