Rep. George Santos in federal custody facing money laundering, fraud, theft charges

Representative George Santos, a Republican from New York, during a joint meeting of Congress with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, US, on Thursday, April 27, 2023.

Nathan Howard | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., was charged by federal prosecutors with an array of crimes, including fraud, theft, money laundering and making false statements.

Santos, 34, was arrested Wednesday morning and is currently in custody, the Department of Justice said. His arraignment was set for Wednesday afternoon in federal court on Long Island, New York.

“This indictment seeks to hold Santos accountable for various alleged fraudulent schemes and brazen misrepresentations,” U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said in a press release.

“Taken together, the allegations in this indictment charge Santos with relying on repeated dishonesty and deception to ascend to the halls of Congress and enrich himself,” Peace said.

The 13-count indictment alleges Santos spent campaign funds on luxury clothing and car payments, fraudulently received more than $24,000 in unemployment benefits, and reported false income and asset data on House disclosure forms.

A spokeswoman for Santos’ office referred CNBC to the congressman’s counsel, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The criminal charges follow a mountain of scandals that have weighed Santos down since before he was sworn into Congress in January. The freshman Republican weeks earlier announced his 2024 reelection campaign, rebuffing critics from both parties who had called for his resignation.

Santos faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison for the top charges against him, according to the Justice Department.

The indictment, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, alleges Santos orchestrated a scheme to trick supporters of his congressional campaign to send money to a Florida-based company he managed. Thousands of dollars of that money were then spent on Santos’ personal expenses, including “luxury designer clothing and credit card payments,” prosecutors alleged.

Santos allegedly directed an unnamed person to falsely tell supporters the company was a nonprofit and that it would use the contributions for Santos’ congressional bid. “In actuality,” Santos “converted most of those funds to his own personal benefit,” according to the indictment.

Santos is also charged with falsely claiming to be unemployed in order to receive government benefits during the coronavirus pandemic. At the time, Santos was the regional director of an investment firm and made approximately $120,000 a year, prosecutors said. He allegedly received about $24,744 in undeserved unemployment insurance benefits.

The congressman is also accused of making false statements in House disclosure reports he was legally required to complete as a candidate for office. In forms he filled out for his 2020 campaign, Santos failed to report more than $25,000 in income from the investment firm where he worked, the indictment alleged.

In his 2022 campaign, Santos allegedly falsely reported earning $750,000 in salary and between $1 million and $5 million in dividends from his company, the Devolder Organization.

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Santos has been under a cloud of scandal since a bombshell New York Times report in late 2022 drew questions about the then-congressman-elect’s background and campaign finances. Santos admitted that he had lied about his education credentials and his work experience, though he denied committing any crimes.

In March, a House ethics panel appointed a subcommittee to investigate possible unlawful activity by Santos’ congressional campaign, and to look into an allegation that he sexually harassed a prospective staffer. Santos has denied that allegation.

A growing number of Santos’ fellow Republicans urged him to step down, even before the federal charges against him first came to light. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who leads a slim majority, has not joined those calls, though he said Tuesday that he would look at the charges against Santos. A spokesman for McCarthy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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