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Newly sworn in Santos hit with campaign fraud claims

A nonpartisan watchdog is urging the Federal Election Commission to go after Congressman George Santos, whose personal history fabrications only came to light after the 2022 election.

WASHINGTON (CN) — Fraud allegations against Congressman George Santos ramped up Monday with a federal complaint accusing the rookie Republican representative of using straw donors and fudging spending records in violation of federal campaign finance laws. 

Santos hid the source of more than $700,000 in campaign funds, misrepresented spending and tapped into his fund to pay personal expenses like rent, according to a filing that the watchdog group Campaign Legal Center lodged Monday with the Federal Election Commission. 

Santos was sworn into Congress only two days earlier due to the record-breaking succession of failed votes before House Republicans elected Representative Kevin McCarthy as their majority speaker. The Campaign Legal Center's complaint signals legal troubles coming to a head for Santos, who is already under state and federal investigation after it emerged that he had lied about his educational, employment and family background during the 2022 campaign. 

“Particularly in light of Santos’s mountain of lies about his life and qualifications for office, the Commission should thoroughly investigate what appear to be equally brazen lies about how his campaign raised and spent money,” the 26-page complaint states.

Santos, whose full name is George Anthony Devolder-Santos, said he loaned his 2022 campaign $705,000 of his own money. But Santos had banked just $55,000 in 2020, according to the filing, and there is no evidence to support claims that he earned millions of dollars in the interim from a consulting business, Devolder Organization LLC, which Santos claims he started in May 2021.

Campaign Legal Center posits that undisclosed individuals or corporations poured money into Santos’ campaign using Devolder as a conduit.

The nonprofit goes on to accuse Santos of using his campaign to pay $13,500 toward his personal rent and of hiding 40 payments of about $200, some of which “appear to be impossible given the nature of the item or service covered.” 

All but three of those payments were for exactly $199.99 — one cent below the threshold requiring the campaign to get a receipt, invoice or canceled check, per federal law. Those went to vendors like Best Buy, Staples, Walgreens, Target and Walmart, as well as Uber, Delta Airlines and a Long Island restaurant called Il Bacco, whose owner donated to Santos' campaign, according to a New York Times investigation.

One charge of the same amount for an October 2021 stay at W Hotel South Beach in Miami, when the hotel’s cheapest room at the time would have exceeded $700 a night. 

“George Santos, in addition to his abundant and ludicrous lies about his background, committed a tasting menu of campaign finance law violations,” wrote Roger G. Wieand, senior researcher of campaign finance and ethics at the Campaign Legal Center, in a Twitter thread outlining the charges. 

Santos could be hit with financial civil penalties if the election commission finds a violation. The commission’s investigations are confidential until they are resolved. 

The Santos campaign could not be reached immediately for comment. His congressional office said it could not comment on the allegations. 

Santos has admitted to resume embellishments after the Times exposed massive fabrications in the personal history he spun for voters. He falsely claimed to have graduated from Baruch College in New York; lied about working at Citigroup and Goldman Sachs; and misrepresented his ancestral and religious background, including claiming to be both Jewish and Catholic, and saying that the September 11, 2001, attacks “claimed my mothers life” [sic] when she in fact passed away in 2016.

In the last several weeks, Santos has played down the lies about his employment history as a “poor choice of words." He also jokingly referred to himself as “Jew-ish,” despite previously calling himself an “American Jew” and falsely claiming that his grandparents survived the Holocaust. 

On other flat-out lies, Santos essentially came clean. 

“I didn’t graduate from any institution of higher learning. I’m embarrassed and sorry for having embellished my resume,” he said. “I own up to that. … We do stupid things in life.”

Despite boasting ownership of more than a dozen properties while campaigning, Santos does not appear to own a house or apartment, and he has failed to pay rent to multiple landlords. “We didn’t pay it off,” Santos said of arrears he owed on a Queens apartment. “I completely forgot about it.”

The 34-year-old Long Island representative is reportedly the subject of a federal criminal probe in the Eastern District of New York. Nassau County District Attorney Anne Donnelly announced last month that her office would be investigating Santos. 

“The numerous fabrications and inconsistencies associated with Congressman-Elect Santos are nothing short of stunning,” Donnelly, a Republican, said in a statement. 

Santos is also reportedly wanted in Brazil for using stolen checks to make fraudulent purchases. 

U.S. Representative Ritchie Torres, a Bronx-based Democrat, called on Congress to tighten campaign fraud standards by making it illegal for candidates to lie about their education, employment or military service. Torres titled his bill the Stop Another Non-Truthful Office Seeker Act, the initial letters of which spell out Santos. 

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