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Rep. George Santos, the New York Republican who told an array of falsehoods about his background on his way to winning a congressional seat in 2022, was arrested May 10 and charged by federal prosecutors with seven counts of wire fraud, three counts of money laundering, one count of theft of public funds and two counts of lying on congressional financial forms.
"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," U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said in a statement. "He used political contributions to line his pockets, unlawfully applied for unemployment benefits that should have gone to New Yorkers who had lost their jobs due to the pandemic, and lied to the House of Representatives."
The financial crimes outlined in the 20-page indictment represent only a portion of the dishonesty that Santos has been accused of after he won a U.S. House seat representing a district that includes parts of Queens and Long Island, New York.
The criminal case could shed light on one of the biggest questions to emerge about Santos’ background: Where did some of the money he spent to get elected come from?
One of his campaign websites said, "George currently works at his family's firm, Devolder Organizations, as a Managing Member where he oversees the asset allocations of" $80 million in assets under management. The New York Times reported that Santos has said he received a $750,000 salary and $1 million in dividends from Devolder.
Forms filed with the Federal Election Commission initially said Santos had lent more than $700,000 in personal funds to his 2022 campaign. He later amended the forms to attribute the loan to the Devolder Organization.
Santos, who pleaded not guilty and was released on $500,000 bond, has not yet commented on the federal charges. But in a Feb. 16 interview with WNYW-TV, Santos said it was "100% legitimately my money, originated from my business practices." And he told the conservative media outlet Newsmax, "I have no doubt in my mind that my funds were obtained through legitimate reasons."
Although the criminal case is the gravest development yet for Santos’ future, many of the claims he made that turned him into a national punchline don’t include criminal exposure. Rather, they amount to a web of details about his personal and professional life that haven’t stood up to scrutiny.
Some of Santos’ biographical claims were scrutinized by a local Long Island publication, The North Shore Leader, before the election. But they didn’t gain a wider audience until days after his election — and weeks before he was officially seated in Congress — when The New York Times and then a host of other media outlets dug into Santos’ background.
In recent interviews, Santos has expressed remorse for falsehoods he told. Three days before his arrest, Santos told CBS News New York’s Marcia Kramer that there was "no strategy whatsoever" to the fabrications and that making those statements was just a "stupid, stupid, stupid decision. Like every human, I made a mistake, now I'm just paying the consequences."
On April 19 — two days after announcing that he would seek another term — Santos told Newsmax that he would not run again "if I knew I had committed any crimes." (Santos reiterated to reporters after his court appearance that he was still planning to run for a new term.)
"Nobody’s immune to making mistakes in life," he told Newsmax. "I’ve owned up to them. I wish every politician would go on TV and admit they lied, but they don’t."
However, our research suggests that although Santos has acknowledged lying about a few topics and exaggerating a few others, he’s doubled down on or failed to address many more.
Here’s an updated list of the major claims he’s made that have been called into question. We’ve separated them into several categories: whether Santos has acknowledged he lied, whether he has copped to exaggerating, whether he still says he’s telling the truth and whether he hasn’t publicly addressed a claim’s veracity.
• That he went to Baruch College and graduated in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in economics and finance. Santos made this claim on a résumé and on an "about" page on his campaign website.
Santos later told the New York Post, "I didn't graduate from any institution of higher learning. I'm embarrassed and sorry for having embellished my résumé." This would also seem to be a backhanded acknowledgement that he never played college volleyball (or defeated Harvard) while there, either. Santos told British interviewer Piers Morgan that lying about his educational attainment was a "very stupid decision."
He told Newsmax that he would not have gotten the Nassau County Republican Party’s nomination if the organization had known he lacked a college degree.
• That he earned a master of business administration degree from New York University in 2013, as he said on the same résumé and campaign website.
Santos’ acknowledgement to the New York Post about not graduating from any higher learning institution also covers this claim.
• That he and his family owned 13 properties, which he claimed in a 2021 Twitter thread.
An extensive search of property records by The New York Times found no real estate holdings for Santos in the U.S. Santos later admitted to the New York Post that "George Santos does not own any properties."
• That he worked for Citigroup and Goldman Sachs. Santos’ campaign website said that after graduating, he "began working at Citigroup as an associate." His tenure ran from 2011 to 2014, according to his résumé. The résumé also said Santos was a "project manager" at Goldman Sachs for about eight months in 2017. However, both companies told the The New York Times and other outlets that Santos was never their employee.
Santos has argued that he did work with Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, such as in conference organizing, marketing and fundraising, but that he was not on staff at either company. He characterized his distinction between working with the companies and working for them as an "embellishment" in an interview with former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, who was guest-hosting on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show.
Santos told Gabbard, who is now an independent, "I can sit down and explain to you what you can do in private equity, in capital intro, via servicing limited partners and general partners, and we can have this discussion that's going to go way above the American people's head. But that's not what I campaigned on."
He also told Newsmax that he "never lied" about his employment, saying he had "direct contracts for those firms."
• That he had never been a drag performer in Brazil. After questions were raised about other aspects of his biography, media reports surfaced that Santos had competed as a drag queen in Brazilian beauty pageants 15 years earlier, and photographs of Santos in his drag persona, Kitara Ravache, were published.
Santos initially tweeted, "The most recent obsession from the media claiming that I am a drag Queen or ‘performed’ as a drag Queen is categorically false. The media continues to make outrageous claims about my life while I am working to deliver results. I will not be distracted nor fazed by this."
Later, Santos offered a more nuanced explanation. He told Morgan he was in drag for "one day" rather than a "career performer."
Santos argues that there was a distinction between his limited participation in drag and being a "drag queen." While walking through LaGuardia Airport, he told reporters trailing him, "No, I was not a drag queen in Brazil, guys. I was young and I had fun at a festival. Sue me for having a life."
• That he never said he’s part Jewish. In the interview with Morgan, Santos said, "I never claimed to be Jewish." We rated this Pants on Fire!
On a half-dozen occasions, Santos unambiguously referred to himself as Jewish. They included two interviews in which he called himself "a Latino Jew," a position paper in which he called himself a "proud American Jew," and interviews in which he variously called himself "half Jewish," "halachically Jewish," and "one of two Jewish Republican freshmen."
Santos told Morgan, "I’d always say I was raised Catholic, but I come from a Jewish family, so that makes me ‘Jew-ish,’ It’s always been a party favor. Everybody’s always laughed."
This echoed the explanation he gave to the New York Post and City & State New York.
• That he attended Horace Mann School in the Bronx, although he acknowledged not graduating from the prep school because of financial difficulties. He made this claim on his campaign website, but school officials told media outlets that records show nothing about Santos attending.
Santos insisted to Morgan that he went there, at least briefly. "I was there for six months of ninth grade," he said.
• That he has ancestors who fled the Holocaust. Santos told a conservative podcaster that his "grandparents survived the Holocaust." He also tweeted that he's "the grandson of Holocaust refugees" and said in a 2021 campaign video that his "grandparents survived the Holocaust." His campaign website said that his mother "was born in Brazil to Belgian immigrants that fled the devastation of World War II Europe."
However, the Forward reported that Santos’ family doesn’t "appear in Brazilian immigration cards in the 1930s or 1940s, or in the databases of Yad Vashem or the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, which list European Jewish refugees." Genealogist Megan Smolenyak told CNN that "there’s no sign of Jewish and/or Ukrainian heritage and no indication of name changes along the way."
Santos has not conceded this point. "This is the one that I will battle to my grave," Santos told Morgan. He has said he is working to get DNA results that will prove his case, saying that it was common at the time for documents to have been fabricated to help people escape persecution.
Two days before his arrest, the Forward reported that Santos told the podcast "Macrodosing" that he would soon make public DNA proof of his Jewish ancestry. "I submitted four DNA tests," he told the podcast. "I got three back. I am not sharing the results with you because we are also getting a genealogy trace back. We are waiting on that. I want to package it and just give it to everybody and be like, ‘Look, I wasn’t lying about that.’"
• That his mother, Fatima Devolder, was in the World Trade Center’s twin towers on Sept. 11, 2001, and eventually died from injuries sustained that day. Santos tweeted that 9/11 "claimed my mother’s life," and he said on a version of his campaign website that she was in her office in the South Tower on 9/11 but survived, passing away "a few years later when she lost her battle to cancer."
Research by NBC News found only one employer of his mother in public records, from 1994 in Queens. She also worked as a nurse in Brazil, the Times reported.
Further, documents have emerged showing that Santos’ mother was in Brazil at the time of the attacks, and when she applied for a visa in 2003 to enter the U.S., she wrote that she had not been in the U.S. since 1999.
Pressed by Morgan about these discrepancies, Santos doubled down, saying it is "true" that his mother worked in the twin towers. He said he doesn’t know why no record can be found of her employment there. "I stay convinced that that’s the truth," he said.
• That he had employees who died in the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. Santos told WNYC radio that he "lost four employees" in the Pulse shooting. But the Times found that none of the 49 victims worked at any company he’s been affiliated with.
Santos stood by this claim to Morgan, saying that the media hadn’t contacted the right company. "I’m reporting based on what was reported to us that morning," Santos said.
• That he ran an animal charity, organized as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, called Friends of Pets United that rescued 2,500 dogs and cats from 2013 to 2018. Santos made this claim in his campaign biography.
The New York Times and others have found no record of a registered charity by this name in federal or state records. The Times did find one fundraiser in 2017, but the organizer of the group that was supposed to be receiving the funds told the newspaper that she never received any money from Santos’ group.
Santos told Morgan that he can "attest" that the Times’ description of the fundraiser is "not true." He said he was one of seven founders of the group and was responsible for picking up animals to be rescued, not for the group’s administration.
• That he cheated a veteran with a sick dog. Richard Osthoff, a disabled U.S. Navy veteran, said in media interviews that Santos helped raise $3,000 for urgent surgery for his service dog, Sapphire, in 2016, but that never received the money and the dog died.
In response, Santos tweeted, "The reports that I would let a dog die is shocking & insane. My work in animal advocacy was the labor of love & hard work. Over the past 24hr I have received pictures of dogs I helped rescue throughout the years along with supportive messages."
In his interview with Morgan, Santos said that he’s set up many GoFundMe pages for pets over the years and that it’s conceivable that someone else managed the page for Osthoff’s dog using his account. However, Santos said he was never directly involved in the effort for Osthoff’s dog.
"I’ve never met this man," Santos told Morgan. "I’ve made abundantly clear: I feel for him, I feel for his story. … When I read this, it hit me like a bag of bricks." Santos said he "never took on this case and I never took the money from his dog."
• That he has had a brain tumor. In March 2020, Santos said on the Empire State Conservatives Podcast that he "battled a brain tumor a couple of years ago."
Santos repeated this in the Newsmax interview, saying he had an "acute tumor a couple years ago and survived it."
• That he was involved in a variety of movies and plays. A Wikipedia page last edited on April 29, 2011, and subsequently taken down, said that Anthony Devolder — one of the names Santos previously used — had acted in the Disney Channel shows "Hannah Montana" and "The Suite Life of Zack & Cody."
Even though other details on the page matched Santos’ known biography, and even though he was not a public figure in 2011, Santos has denied having made the page. "I have no ownership of that page," Santos told Morgan. "I never pretended to be an actor."
• That he said he was targeted in an "assassination attempt." After his election, Santos appeared on a Brazilian podcast and told the hosts in Portuguese that "we have already suffered an attempt on my life, an assassination attempt," according to an MSNBC translation.
However, Santos disputed this translation in the interview with Morgan. He told Morgan that he had received "several death threats … throughout the process of running for office." Saying he called it an "assassination attempt" in the podcast is a "poor translation" from the Portuguese, Santos said.
Luiz Romero, a PolitiFact contributing writer who is fluent in Portuguese, said that a literal translation of Santos’ remarks would be, "I’ve already suffered vandalism. We’ve already suffered a ‘life attack,’ an ‘assassination attack,’ a threatening letter, having to have police, a police escort standing in front of our house." Romero said he thinks it is fair to hear what Santos is saying and understand that he was the target of an assassination attempt, both from context and considering how those words are used in Portuguese.
• That he’s not a criminal. Santos told the New York Post, "I am not a criminal here — not here or in Brazil or any jurisdiction in the world."
Santos has not been convicted of any crime, and he has pleaded not guilty to the newly filed federal charges.
However, The New York Times unearthed court records showing that Santos was charged with stealing a checkbook belonging to a man his mother was caring for and writing fraudulent checks worth $700. The case lapsed when he left the country, but after his election to Congress came to light, Brazilian prosecutors said they intended to resurrect the fraud charges.
Also, in 2017, Politico reported that a checking account in Santos’ name wrote nine canceled checks to dog breeders, writing in the memo section: "puppy" and "puppies." This earned him the charge in Pennsylvania of theft by deception. Santos said his checkbook had been stolen and, with a friend’s help, the charge was expunged.
In March, meanwhile, a Brazilian man made a sworn statement in which he claimed Santos, a former roommate, was "in charge of" a fraud scheme involving "skimmers" that read and stored ATM card numbers. The Brazilian man was arrested in 2017, pleaded guilty, and was deported. Santos was interviewed for the case but was not charged at the time.
• That he’s "biracial … Caucasian and Black." In a Twitter conversation in 2020, Santos said he was biracial, specifically "Caucasian and Black." He does not appear to have elaborated on this.
• That he trashed Goldman Sachs at a conference run by Anthony Scaramucci, who briefly served in President Donald Trump’s White House. Scaramucci founded SALT, a "global thought leadership and networking forum encompassing finance, technology and geopolitics."
Santos told a podcast in 2022, "Have you ever heard of a Goldman Sachs employee take the stage at the largest private equity conference in the world — SALT, run by Anthony Scaramucci — and berate their employer? Well, I did that." Santos said he was serving on a panel about renewable energy and global warming.
Scaramucci told CNN that Santos wasn’t on any panel at the conference, and didn’t even attend. Santos does not appear to have addressed this claim any further.
• That he had two knee replacements. Santos said in a radio interview that as a result of his collegiate volleyball career (which presumably didn’t exist at all, as he now acknowledges not attending college), he had "sacrificed both…knees" and "got very nice knee replacements … That’s how serious I took the game."
Santos does not appear to have addressed this claim since.
News researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this article.
New York Times, "Who is Rep.-Elect George Santos? His résumé may be largely fiction," Dec. 19, 2023
Daily Beast, "All of the many, many lies George Santos has told," Jan. 4, 2023
NBC New York, "List of George Santos lies: All the mistruths the congressman is accused of telling," updated Jan. 17, 2023
Vanity Fair, "George Santos's 11 most absurd lies and cons (that we know about so far)," Jan. 18, 2023
Washington Post, "Republican Rep. George Santos’s trail of untruths. Here’s a list," Jan. 19, 2023
Gothamist, "An updating list of George Santos' lies, deceptions and fabrications," updated Jan. 19, 2023
Long Island Press, "A list of all the lies George Santos has told," Jan. 27, 2023
The Week, "A running list of George Santos' apparent lies," Feb. 7, 2023
The Independent, "George Santos: Every lie disgraced Republican Congressman has been accused of making," Feb. 21, 2023
New York magazine, "Here’s Every Single Lie Told by George Santos," Feb. 24, 2023
George Santos, interview with Newsmax, Feb. 10, 2023
George Santos, interview with Fox 5 New York, Feb. 16, 2023
George Santos, interview with Piers Morgan, Feb. 20, 2023
PolitiFact, "George Santos said he "never claimed to be Jewish. That's Pants on Fire!" Feb. 22, 2023
CNN, "Santos announces 2024 reelection campaign for New York congressional seat," April 17, 2023
Washington Post, "Rep. George Santos charged with 13 counts of fraud, financial crimes," May 10, 2023
Eastern District of New York, indictment against George Santos, released May 10, 2023
Associated Press, "Rep. George Santos pleads not guilty to charges alleging fraud, theft at heart of campaign," May 10, 2023
The Hill, "George Santos in custody on 13 federal charges," May 10, 2023
News12 Brooklyn, "Power & Politics" full show: News 12’s full 1-on-1 interview with Rep. George Santos," April 23, 2023
CBS New York, "The Point: Rep. George Santos wants to use his ‘very loud voice’ to deliver results for New York," May 7, 2023
Newsmax, interview with George Santos, April 19, 2023
The Forward, "Santos says he’ll soon release evidence of his Jewish ancestry with genealogy tests," May 8, 2023
Saturday Night Live, cold open, Jan. 22, 2023
Other sources linked in article