George Santos Pleads not Guilty to Federal Fraud Charges

George Santos Pleads not Guilty to Federal Fraud Charges – George Santos, a Republican congressman, who was accused of lying about his background and campaign finance disclosures, entered a plea of not guilty to multiple charges of fraud, money laundering, theft of public funds and making false statements in a federal court in New York on Wednesday.

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Despite being released on a $500,000 bond, Santos was required by US magistrate judge Arlene Lindsay to surrender his passport and inform the court of any travel outside Long Island, New York City, and Washington, DC, where he was expected to return promptly. 

After his arraignment, the new member of Congress exited the federal courthouse in Central Islip, Long Island, and employed language similar to that of Donald Trump to criticize the criminal charges, characterizing them as a scheme to harm him politically. “It’s a witch-hunt,” Santos said.

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“I’m going to fight my battle, I’m going to fight the witch-hunt, I’m going to take care of clearing my name.” On June 30th, Santos is slated to appear in court again, having surrendered himself to authorities a few hours before leaving the courthouse unnoticed by reporters and cameras at the main entrance, entering instead through a back door. 

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According to former prosecutors, it’s likely that Santos was subjected to the standard procedures for a criminal defendant, such as fingerprinting, having his mugshot taken, and undergoing a preliminary interview. The indictment against Santos was made public earlier in the day and included a total of thirteen charges, seven of which were for wire fraud, three for money laundering, one for theft of public money, and two for making materially false statements in financial reports submitted to the House of Representatives. 

If convicted on the most severe charge, Santos could receive a maximum sentence of 20 years, as stated by the US attorney’s office for the eastern district of New York. Despite this, he will not be required to give up his seat. However, according to House rules, members who are sentenced to at least two years are not permitted to vote or serve on committees.

“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 US attorney Breon Peace said. According to the charging papers, the indictment detailed three purported fraudulent schemes, with the most significant one revolving around a political fundraising campaign.

Santos and an anonymous consultant from Queens reportedly encouraged donors to contribute funds that were then utilized to cover personal debts and luxury purchases. The second scheme pertained to fraud involving unemployment benefits during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Even though he was employed and earning $120,000 as an investment firm’s registered representative in Florida, Santos allegedly obtained around $20,000 in government aid. The third purported scheme entailed Santos deceiving the House by overstating a source of income without disclosing his salary during his first, failed Congressional campaign in May 2020.

He then allegedly made false statements during his successful campaign in September 2022. The charges against him regarding his financial disclosures in the latter instance involved substantial sums of money under bizarre circumstances. The prosecutors accused Santos of falsely certifying a salary of $750,000 and dividends between $1 million and $5 million from his company, the Devolder Organization.

They further claimed he had between $100,000 and $250,000 in a checking account and between $1 million and $5 million in savings. Santos was made aware of the charges on Tuesday, prior to their widespread dissemination. According to a source familiar with the matter, Santos’s congressional staff in Washington was instructed to work from home for an unspecified period and not to report to the office.

During his campaign, Santos relied partially on falsehoods, such as claiming to be a wealthy Wall Street dealmaker with a substantial real estate portfolio, as well as having been a standout volleyball player in college. However, in reality, he did not work at the firms he cited, did not attend college, and struggled financially.

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Despite his extensive dishonesty to both the voters and the government, Santos has thus far managed to avoid significant political consequences. This is largely because Republicans hold a slim majority in the House, and Santos was a crucial vote for Kevin McCarthy’s speakership.

Until the indictment, Santos’s most pressing issue was an inquiry by the House ethics committee, which seldom penalizes members. McCarthy told journalists that he would urge Santos to step down if found guilty of the federal charges. Santos has vehemently denied any wrongdoing and adamantly refused to resign, even as Republicans and Democrats alike have increased pressure on him to step down – a rare instance of bipartisan unity in an otherwise fiercely partisan Congress.

The Republican Marc Molinaro told reporters: “George Santos should have resigned in December. George Santos should have resigned in January. George Santos should have resigned yesterday. Perhaps he’ll resign today. But sooner or later both the truth and justice will be delivered to him.”

Ritchie Torres, a New York Democrat, called him “a pathological liar and lawbreaker who lied to the voters of New York state and defrauded his way into the United States Congress”, adding: “Santos is a deep rot of corruption at the core of Congress.” Santos’s financial filings contained several irregularities that were immediately noticed by media outlets.

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For instance, there were 1,200 payments of $199.99, which is just below the threshold that requires receipts, as well as an unregistered fund that raised a considerable amount of money, and approximately $40,000 spent on air travel. Despite claiming that he loaned his campaign and political action committees over $750,000, it is unclear how Santos obtained such wealth, especially given his financial struggles and eviction.

Santos has described the Devolder Organization as a luxury goods broker. He established the business in Florida after leaving a sales position at a company that was accused by federal prosecutors of running a fraudulent Ponzi scheme. Santos has been the subject of previous criminal investigations, including a case involving fraudulent checks and an ongoing inquiry into his charity work for abused animals. He was also investigated in Brazil at the age of 19 over allegations of using stolen checks at a clothing store. Brazilian authorities recently reopened the case this year.

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