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Republican Congressman George Santos Charged With Money-laundering, Fraud, and Theft

George Santos after his arrest.
By A.J. Firstman | Last updated on

Freshman congressman and senior liar George Santos surrendered himself to federal authorities at a courthouse in Long Island, New York, on the morning of May 10. The 34-year-old congressman pled not guilty to the 13 charges levied against him by authorities in the Eastern District of New York and was released on a $500,000 bond the same day.

Santos faces charges for one count of theft of public funds, two counts of lying to the House of Representatives on financial forms, three counts of money laundering, and seven counts of wire fraud. All of the charges are financial in nature, but the most serious by far are the seven charges of wire fraud, each of which can carry fines of up to $250,000 and up to 20 years in prison.

Campaign Finance Shenanigans

According to the indictment dated May 9th, Santos allegedly devised and executed a scheme to defraud his supporters by fraudulently inducing them to contribute funds to an entity listed as "Company #1." He'd promised that the contributions would be used to support his run for the House of Representatives. But the indictment alleges that instead of using those political contributions for their stated purpose, Santos spent thousands of the donated dollars on luxury clothing, credit card payments, and other personal expenses.

What George Santos either didn't know or chose to ignore is that misappropriating campaign funds is something of a no-no in legal circles. More specifically, his alleged actions violated the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971, which put limits on who could contribute to political campaigns and how much they could contribute.

Company #1 was neither a Super PAC nor a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization, which means it was strictly prohibited from accepting contributions from individuals exceeding $2,900 per individual. At least one individual exceeded the contribution limit at the direction of Santos himself.

You Can't Do That, George

Apparently, Santos reached out to a number of people, telling them (falsely) that their money would be spent on television advertisements purchased by Company #1 in support of the congressman's campaign. And crucially, at least some of those potential donors fell for it.

The congressman allegedly directed an individual listed as "Person #1" to solicit contributions from prospective voters to Company #1 via a series of phone calls, emails, and text messages. He sent this anonymous person a text saying that Company #1 was "a small C4" that existed "just to help his race" and that there were "no limits" with respect to contributions. Person #1 evidently knew even less about campaign finance laws than Mr. Santos, as they were happy to take Santos at his word.

Santos and Person #1 allegedly used these false statements to deceive a donor known as "Contributor #1," into wiring $25,000 to Company #1—making the generally fraudulent act literally classify as the specific crime of wire fraud.

Contributor #1 wasn't the only person who Santos and Person #1 tricked into contributing tens of thousands of dollars. At least one other individual, "Contributor #2," received misleading emails claiming that "there are no limits for contributors as we are a 501c4 Independent Expenditure committee under federal campaign finance law and do not coordinate directly with the Santos campaign." Subsequent text messages sent by Santos himself reiterated the supposed need for contributions to be spent on television advertisements. Contributor #2 was evidently swayed by this firehose of falsehoods, as they wired $25,000 to Company #1 the same day.

Needless to say, Company #1 was in fact associated with the Santos campaign. Santos allegedly accessed the bank account held by Company #1 shortly after receiving the contributions, then promptly transferred the funds into his own personal accounts. He did not spend the funds on television ads as promised. Instead Santos allegedly made cash withdrawals, purchased designer clothing, made payments on his credit cards, car loan, and personal debts—with at least some of the remaining funds finding their way to Santos' associates.

Again, you aren't allowed to do that.

Unemployment Fraud?

Perhaps the most amusing of the charges levied against Santos is for "fraudulent application for and receipt of unemployment benefits."

In June 2020, Santos applied for unemployment benefits under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Maybe he saw our blog post back then, warning that the CARES benefits were expiring soon, and wanted to get in while he could. Either way, he claimed that he had been unemployed since March 22, 2020, and then proceeded to claim unemployment benefits on a weekly basis for over a year.

According to Santos' weekly unemployment certifications, he was unemployed, available to take on work, and eligible for benefits for the whole period. In reality, Santos had started a new job in February of 2020 as a Regional Director at a company referred to in the indictment as "Investment Firm #1." This phenomenon is also known as "being employed," which precludes the ability to claim unemployment benefits. He was ultimately paid about $24,744 in unemployment benefits on top of the $120,000 salary he received in his Regional Director role.

Sounds like Santos might have deserved unemployment benefits about as much as a German Shepherd.

Liar Liar

Finally, Santos is also accused of lying about his financial situation on his legally required House Disclosure forms. No, these forms have nothing to do with the "house" he lives in; rather, the House Disclosure Form is a document that all House of Representatives members must submit to the House Committee, and is supposed to include accurate information about the members' earnings and assets.

In May of 2020 Santos filed two disclosures claiming that he only earned $55,000 from a firm listed as "Company #2." Not only did he overstate the amount he received from Company #2, he didn't disclose the salary he received from Investment Firm #1.

The second infraction came in September of 2022 when Santos filed another House Disclosure before his reelection campaign, again overstating his income and assets. This time, he also failed to disclose the amount he'd received from Investment Firm #1 and—ironically—the amount he received in unemployment benefits.

What Now?

George Santos maintains his innocence and intent to run for reelection at the end of his term. The case against him seems certain to result in at least some convictions—they don't arrest congresspeople without some serious evidence—but his political fate is less certain. Not only has GOP leadership failed to address his dishonesty in the past, but there are no mechanisms for automatically ejecting a Representative from the House who has been charged or convicted with a felony.

Representative Robert Garcia began the process to force a vote on a motion to expel Santos from the House on May 16. Two thirds of the House would need to vote to expel Santos for the motion to pass, which puts the House's 222 Republicans in an awkward position. The vote theoretically gives the self-proclaimed part of law and order the chance to prove their commitment to upholding the law, but voting to expel Santos would mean violating the unwritten Republican party policy of always protecting each other from the law.

We'll know whether the Republicans choose to protect Santos—and implicitly support his extensive history of proven lies and criminality—soon. But if his party refuses to act, Congress fails to expel him, and his constituents reelect him, there's a decent chance that Santos might serve his next term from behind bars.

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