May. 10, 2023 By Ben Brachfeld
Even by the embarrassing standards of politics, Queens and Long Island Congress Member George Santos — who was indicted on federal fraud charges on Wednesday — has spun a breathtaking web of deception leaving his constituents and the nation grasping for answers and wondering what, if anything, might actually be true.
The 34-year-old freshman Republican surrendered to federal authorities on Long Island Wednesday morning and pled not guilty on charges he laundered campaign contributions into his personal bank account and spent them on personal items, defrauded New York’s unemployment insurance system, and lied about his income on House of Representatives financial disclosures.
For those raps, he could face decades in prison; he’s out on $500,000 bond.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg for Santos, who has become a political pariah in New York and on Capitol Hill after nearly his entire biography failed to stand up to basic scrutiny.
Santos has lied so much about himself and his life that it can be a bit hard to keep track of it all. He’s admitted to “embellishing” his biography in some respects but has firmly denied other accusations.
Below, we’ve compiled what we hope is a comprehensive list of all the lies Santos has told and all the ways he’s been accused of cheating and defrauding the people around him over the years, but the breadth of his alleged dishonesty means there easily could be things we’ve missed.
Santos’ façade began to crumble before he was even sworn into office, when the New York Times published a bombshell investigation finding the bulk of his backstory presented on the campaign trail was apparently bogus. Santos presented himself to voters as a wealthy Wall Street investor with a sizable real estate portfolio and a philanthropist devoted to animal welfare.
But his claims of working for Citigroup and Goldman Sachs were denied by both those companies, as was his education at Baruch College. His purported family investment firm did not appear to have any clients, and his charity, Friends of Pets United, was not registered with the Internal Revenue Service. Not only did he not have the real estate portfolio he touted, he actually had twice faced eviction from apartments in Queens.
Santos’ claim that he lost four employees in the 2016 Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida also appeared to be fabricated.
These initial findings made Santos toxic before he even set foot on Capitol Hill. But they’re almost tame compared to what came later.
Santos claimed Jewish heritage through his mother, contending his family had fled to Brazil to escape Nazi persecution in Belgium. But the Forward found records indicating his mother’s parents had both been born in Brazil, with traditionally Catholic names. Santos ultimately admitted to the fib, saying he was fully Catholic but infamously describing himself as “Jew-ish.”
Santos would ultimately walk back that walk-back and claim he actually was Jewish, with DNA evidence to prove it. He has not publicized said evidence.
Early life in Brazil
Unsurprisingly, not much is known for certain about Santos’ early life in Brazil, including whether he was actually born there or in America, but some of the fibs he’s told have not withstood dissection.
With Republicans nationwide demonizing and restricting drag performance, Santos initially denied reports that he had performed in drag as a young man in Brazil, but quickly backtracked following corroboration by friends and photographs.
During the campaign, Santos said his mother had worked in finance and been in the World Trade Center on 9/11, ultimately dying of cancer related to the attacks. That, of course, was not true: she was a home care worker who was in Brazil at the time of the attacks, and died of unrelated causes in 2016.
After entering Congress, Brazilian prosecutors reopened a 2008 case accusing Santos of check fraud as a teenager. Santos stood accused of stealing the checkbook of a deceased man whom his mother had cared for, forging the man’s signature and splurging on $1,300 of clothing and shoes. Santos struck a plea deal in March.
Stealing from a dying dog
In January, Patch reported the story of Richard Osthoff, a disabled veteran whose beloved service pit bull, Sapphire, had cancer and required a $3,000 surgery. Through a veterinarian, he was connected to “Anthony Devolder,” who ran an animal charity and agreed to raise money for the surgery. Sapphire’s GoFundMe reached its $3,000 goal, but Devolder never responded to Osthoff again and apparently disappeared with the money.
Sapphire died a few months later; Osthoff was so broke that he had to panhandle to euthanize and cremate his beloved pooch.
As it turned out, Anthony Devolder was an alias for George Santos, and the animal charity was Santos’ bogus “Friends of Pets United.” Osthoff realized they were one and the same after Santos was elected to Congress and his lies started to unravel; the FBI is still investigating.
Other crimes and misdemeanors
Santos’ trail includes not only lies, but a treasure trove of potentially criminal behavior and otherwise shady business.
Beyond the campaign finance violations he’s accused of in the indictment, Santos has not accounted for the true origin of $700,000 he claimed to loan to his campaign, and several campaign expenses were listed as costing $199.99, including eight at an Italian restaurant in Queens, just a penny below the threshold where receipts are required. Officials are also probing a $19 million yacht sale that Santos allegedly brokered for a major campaign donor.
In February, Santos was accused of sexual harassment by a former staffer, who said the congressman felt him up in his Washington office and suggested they go for a night on the town, since his husband was out of town. The staffer also claimed that Santos had not paid him.
Outside of politics, Santos has been accused of participating in an ATM-skimming plot, and the only financial firm he’s confirmed to have worked at was Florida’s Harbor City Capital, which the Securities and Exchange Commission has accused of being a Ponzi scheme.
A former roommate claimed that Santos stole numerous petty items from him, including a Burberry scarf that he would ultimately wear to the “Stop the Steal” rally at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Miscellaneous and mundane
Santos allegedly has lied about things both big and small, casually weaving whoppers into much of his public commentary.
The serial fabulist said he was mugged of his shoes on Fifth Avenue in 2021 and even claimed he was the victim of an attempted assassination.
He claimed he was a volleyball star at Baruch College — where he didn’t actually attend — and said he produced the notorious Broadway flop “Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark,” regularly attended the Met Gala, and had worked as a fashion model in a previous life.