Rep.-elect George Santos (R-N.Y.) is starting to emerge from days of silence following explosive reports in The New York Times and elsewhere detailing key elements of his background he apparently misrepresented.
In various interviews, Santos has admitted to “embellishing” his resume.
He told the New York Post that he “didn’t graduate from any institution of higher learning” and that it was “poor choice of words” to previously say he worked for Citigroup and Goldman Sachs. He worked for a company called LinkBridge, he said, which did business with both other companies and helped make “capital introductions” through “limited partnerships.”
But questions remain about the influx of personal wealth that he used to fund his campaign, an allegation of check fraud in Brazil that he has denied, his assertion about connections to victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting, work with an animal rescue group and his heritage, among other issues.
Santos, who has given only limited statements to the press amid the fallout, did not respond to an email seeking clarification about these points.
These are some of the questions that remain:
Santos’s personal finances
Sizable personal loans from Santos to his campaign alongside a sharp jump in his reported personal wealth have led to questions about how he got his money.
Federal Election Commission filings show Santos loaned his campaign at least $580,000 during his 2022 run and nearly $80,000 during his 2020 run. In total, Santos brought in nearly $3 million from all sources during his 2022 campaign.
Financial disclosure forms filed with the House clerk in 2020 and 2022 show a sizable jump in Santos’s personal wealth during the intervening years. His 2020 financial disclosure said that he made $55,000 from LinkBridge Investors during the previous year and listed no other assets, income or liabilities.
But just two years later, Santos reported bringing in a $750,000 salary from his company, the Devolder Organization. He said in one interview that the loans to his campaign came from that salary.
He also reported holding between $1 million and $5 million in a savings account, between $100,001 and $250,000 in a checking account, and an apartment in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, valued between $500,001 and $1,000,000.
Santos formed Devolder in May 2021, according to documents filed with the Florida secretary of state. His campaign website previously said that his company managed $80 million in assets, but that claim has since been removed. The Washington Post reported that financial data company Dun & Bradstreet estimated in July 2022 that Devolder had revenue of only about $43,688. Santos’s disclosures have not revealed any clients.
New York Democratic Rep. Ritchie Torres has urged the House Ethics Committee to investigate how Santos made his money.
Rio apartment and property ownership
Santos’s financial disclosure of an apartment valued between $500,001 and $1 million in Rio de Janeiro contradicts his more recent statements that he does not own any property.
The representative-elect’s previous statements that his family managed 13 properties came under scrutiny from The New York Times, which revealed eviction proceedings against him for unpaid rent.
Santos told the New York Post this week that he does not personally own any properties and currently lives with his sister.
Check fraud allegation in Brazil
The New York Times reported that in 2008 Santos was accused of stealing the checkbook of a man his mother was caring for in Brazil and was charged with making two fraudulent purchases. Santos was 19 at the time.
The report said Santos confessed to the crime but that, according to a local prosecutor and the court in Brazil, the case is unresolved.
Santos has been defiant about the allegation.
“I’m not a criminal. I committed absolutely no crimes. I’m not a wanted criminal in any jurisdiction,” Santos told City & State in an interview.
Connection to Pulse nightclub shooting victims
Santos said in a November WNYC interview that his company at the time “lost four employees” in the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016. A New York Times review found that none of the 49 victims appeared to have worked for any of the firms to which Santos was connected.
In response to a question from former Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) on radio station WABC this week, Santos said that no one who died in the Pulse nightclub shooting worked for his company directly but that they were in the process of being hired.
“We did have people who were being hired to work for the company at the time. … We did look for people who were going to be coming to work for the company that I was starting up in Orlando,” Santos said.
It is still unclear which individuals Santos was referring to or if they were indeed in the process of being hired.
Animal rescue charity
The New York Times investigation found that there is no record of Friends of Pets United, an animal rescue group with which Santos said he was involved, being a tax-exempt organization registered with the IRS. It also said that one person who was supposed to benefit from a fundraiser held by Friends of Pets United never received those funds and that Santos gave excuses for not sending the money.
Santos told City & State in an interview that he was part of a group of people involved in the effort and that he assisted with finding homes for the animals and cleaning up after them.
“I was the guy picking up poop cleaning, getting people doing campaigns online,” Santos said.
He also said that the efforts are being looked into and more on the animal charity is “TBA.”
Family heritage and Jewish ancestry
Santos’s biography claimed that his maternal grandparents had “fled Jewish persecution in Ukraine, settled in Belgium, and again fled persecution during WWII” before his mother was born in Brazil.
Santos told the New York Post this week that his grandmother told stories about being Jewish before converting to Catholicism. He also added he was not Jewish but a practicing Catholic who is “Jew-ish,” with a Jewish background.
And he told WABC that his understanding was that his grandparents were not born in Brazil as genealogy records indicate.
“My grandfather, Ukrainian descent, my grandmother, Belgian. So that’s the story. He goes from Ukraine to Belgium, they go to Brazil,” Santos said.
Earlier this year, Santos spoke at a Republican Jewish Coalition event. The organization has now condemned Santos.
“We are very disappointed in Congressman-elect Santos. He deceived us and misrepresented his heritage. In public comments and to us personally he previously claimed to be Jewish. He has begun his tenure in Congress on a very wrong note. He will not be welcome at any future RCJ event,” Republican Jewish Coalition CEO Matt Brooks said in a statement on Tuesday.
Uproar about Santos’s background also led to the Daily Beast revealing a previous marriage to a woman.
Santos was the first openly gay nonincumbent Republican to be elected to the House.
His first marriage ended just 12 days before he started his congressional campaign, the Daily Beast said. Santos also says he is currently married to a man and previously referenced him as a fiancé in campaign materials, but the Daily Beast could not find a record of that marriage.
Santos addressed his previous marriage with City & State.
“I did marry young and I married a young woman at the time, and we pretty much were in love. And then we weren’t,” Santos said. “I decided after a long time, like many who don’t, to come out and say, ‘I’m gay, and I’m not going to lead you along, and this is toxic, and this relationship isn’t going to work.’ And I set myself free and I set her free.”
How Republican leaders respond
While Democrats have widely called for Santos to resign or not be sworn in, many top Republicans have been silent about his fabrications and embellishments.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) did not respond to questions about Santos at the Capitol last week.
A trickle of Republican condemnation is starting to emerge, though.
Nassau County GOP Chairman Joseph Cairo said on Tuesday that he is ”deeply disappointed in Mr. Santos” and expects “more than just a blanket apology.”
Fellow New York Rep.-elect Nick LaLota (R) on Tuesday called for “a full investigation by the House Ethics Committee and, if necessary, law enforcement” into Santos. And Rep.-elect Anthony D’Esposito (R-N.Y.) said that Santos’s “fabrications regarding the Holocaust and his family’s history are particularly harmful.”
Santos has said he will not resign.
“I’m not resigning,” Santos told City & State, saying if he has to leave Congress, “it’s going to be by a pink slip by the voters, November of 2024.”