U.S. Representative George Santos pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to charges of fraud, money laundering, and theft of public funds in the latest hit to the newly elected Republican, who has resisted calls to resign for lying about his resume.
A 13-count federal indictment, unsealed on Wednesday, charges Santos, 34, with defrauding prospective political supporters by laundering funds to pay for his personal expenses and illegally receiving unemployment benefits while he was employed.
It also accuses him of making false statements to the House of Representatives about his assets, income, and liabilities.
Top House Republicans, who control the chamber by a narrow 222-213 margin, said they would wait for the legal process to play out before taking further action on Santos, who made the plea at the federal courthouse in Central Islip, 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,” Breon Peace, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said in a statement.
Santos’ congressional office referred requests for comment to his counsel. An attorney for Santos did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the indictment.
Nine House Republicans have so far called on Santos to resign, including six from his home state of New York. But No. 2 House Republican Steve Scalise said the caucus would withhold judgment on Santos.
“The charges just came out,” Scalise said at a press conference. “In America, there’s a presumption of innocence, but they’re serious charges. He’s going to have to go through the legal process.”
Shortly after Santos’ election in 2022 to represent a wealthy area of New York’s Long Island, the New York Times and other media outlets revealed that he had fabricated almost every aspect of his personal and professional history.
Among other claims, Santos said he had degrees from New York University and Baruch College despite neither institution’s having any record of his attending. He claimed to have worked at Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, which also was untrue.
He said falsely that he was Jewish and that his grandparents escaped the Nazis during World War Two. Santos, who identifies as gay, also failed to disclose that he was married to a woman for several years ending in 2019.
He has since admitted to fabricating large parts of his resume.
The House Ethics Committee in March launched a multi-pronged investigation to look at everything from alleged illegal activity over Santos’ 2022 campaign and failing to properly disclose information required on House statements to violations of federal conflict-of-interest laws.
Some of the allegations in the indictment track closely with the claims being investigated by the House panel.
In the political campaign scheme, prosecutors said Santos laundered donations into his own personal bank accounts and used thousands of dollars to pay for personal expenses, from luxury clothing to credit card payments.
He also is accused of repeatedly making false statements about his income in forms he filed with the House.
For instance, he allegedly failed to properly report $25,403 in investment income in 2020 and falsely claimed he earned a salary, commission, and bonuses of $55,000 from “Company #2,” when he had only received $27,555.
He also allegedly misstated his income in 2022, claiming for example that he had a salary of $750,000 from an entity he controlled and that he maintained checking accounts with balances of $100,001-$250,000.
In reality, the indictment says, none of those claims were true.
In addition to those alleged schemes, prosecutors said Santos sought to cash in on unemployment benefits during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Copyright 2023 Thompson/Reuters