George Santos, the embattled representative-elect for New York’s 3rd Congressional District, has fessed up.
After a New York Timesexposé broke a week ago calling much of Santos’ background into question, including his claims of where he went to college, where he’s worked, and even whether he had a criminal background and was actually a fugitive from Brazil—allegations which Santos’ attorney claimed at the time were a “shotgun blast of attacks” aimed at “smearing his good name”—the 34-year old fabulist tried to close the story with a heartfelt mea culpa.
The Confession That Wasn’t
In an exclusive interview, Santos admitted to the New York Post he had lied about graduating from Baruch College in 2010, now stating he never actually completed any college degree. He further clarified he never really worked at Goldman Sachs and Citigroup but instead helped make “capital introductions” between clients of his employer Link Bridge and those two firms.
Santos told the Post on Monday:
“My sins here are embellishing my resumé. I’m sorry.”
(Narrator: It is not embellishment but fabrication to claim colleges you never attended and jobs you never held.)
As for his claims of Jewish heritage, Santos claimed his grandmother had told stories about being Jewish and later converting to Catholicism.
Santos said, clarifying:
‘I never claimed to be Jewish.”
“I said I was Jew-ish.”
Catholic or not, Santos’ confession was not even full-ish.
Left unanswered and unresolved were serious questions about his criminal background (it’s on the record and he still denies it), whether he is actually a U.S. Citizen, as well as his financial disclosures and the huge loan he allegedly made to his campaign that seemed to come out of nowhere.
With his background in the spotlight, old reports of political donations from individuals connected to Russian oligarchs have resurfaced, leading many to wonder whether Santos might be in the pocket of foreign adversaries.
As one legal commentator put it:
“Liar admits to some of his lies, lies about those lies some more, and remains silent about his other lies."
"The lying liar expects us to believe his new lies and forget about his previous lies.”
But we will not forget, in part because looming over all of this is a political question with very big implications: Will Santos be seated in the House come January, and if he is, what happens next?
Given the bare four-seat majority the GOP holds in that chamber and Kevin McCarthy’s mad scramble to secure every single vote he can in support of his Speakership, the answer could prove pivotal.
So let’s examine those finances a bit more closely and then see what, if anything, that might change for Santos’ (and by extension, Kevin McCarthy’s and the GOP’s) political future.
A Troubled Financial Past
Since the story on Santos’ numerous lies first broke, reporters have been digging furiously. The Times went back through public records and interviewed former friends, co-workers, roommates, and landlords of Santos and pieced together a tale worthy of The Talented Mr. Ripley or Catch Me If You Can.
Ten years ago, Santos worked as a call center operator at Dish Network, earning near minimum wage. He lived in a modest Queens apartment around the time he was allegedly rising through the ranks of Citigroup.
The Times spoke to his roommate at the time, who said Santos always boasted of his family’s wealth and business success, including an alleged home on Nantucket, but this didn’t square with the life the family apparently led.
His roommate said:
“You’re sitting here bragging about all this money you’re making."
“Then why is your mother a housekeeper?”
Santos borrowed money from friends he never repaid, forcing them to file suit against him in small claims court. His family was evicted for unpaid rent, and a second landlord obtained a judgment against him for more than $12,000.
As late as 2018, his credit card companies sued him for nearly $2,000 in debt. And then, his wife sued for divorce in 2019, which wouldn’t be weird except Santos is supposedly gay and now living with his spouse Matt.
Who is this woman from Brazil, with whom he apparently never lived, and why did they get married? (It is not hard to come up with a plausible answer here, one that could land them both in legal hot water for immigration fraud.)
The low income job background, the court cases for unpaid debts, and the evictions tell a story of a man on the financial edge, not someone who has the means to loan his own campaign massive amounts of money.
So Talking Points Memo did a bit of further digging and produced excellent reporting on Santos’ recent financial entanglements and disclosures, which I will try my best to summarize briefly.
Warning: It’s really bizarre and complicated, and it raises more questions than answers, so bear with me as we head down this rabbit hole.
Money Outta Thin Air
When he first ran for Congress in 2020, Santos claimed he only made a salary of $55,000 along with a bonus of $5,000 he made as a financial consultant for Link Bridge. He identified no other assets in that disclosure.
Yet somehow two years later, when he ran again for Congress in 2022, Santos claimed he had earned $750,000 in salary from his own company, the Devolder Organization LLC, named after his late mother.
Devolder was organized in Florida in 2021, yet somehow in one year the company earned enough money for it to loan Santos’ campaign $700,000 for his run in 2022.
Curiouser and curiouser, indeed.
The registered agent for Devolder was one “D&D International Investment Services” which was incorporated in 2007 and run by a married couple (DeVaughn Dames and Odette Daley) out of the same address as a now defunct gynecology practice operated by Daley.
For his part, Dames is connected to 18 different business entities in Florida, including “Bahamas Traders Corp.” and “Import Export Logistics Group LLC.” On social media, Dames touts various ways for wealth creation through something called the “More and More Network” that advises in videos how to “Buye [sic] Business with Other People [sic] Money.”
In July 2020, Santos worked with Dames at a Florida-based investment firm called Harbor City, where Dames was the CFO. According to a complaint filed by the SEC, Harbor City was run in a “classic Ponzi scheme fashion.”
The company’s CEO was accused of misappropriating $6 million in investor funds. According to reporting by The Daily Beast, which raised this red flag way back in April of this year, Santos left Harbor City in 2021 one month before the charges were filed, and he claims he was unaware of any misconduct there.
Despite apparently earning millions of dollars, the Devolder Organization let its corporate status lapse and had to file reinstatement papers just a few days ago, which have scrubbed Dames’ name as registered agent and now list only Santos.
The company lists a condo in Merritt Island, Florida, as its principal place of business. But the condo is also listed as the place of business of other companies, including Redstone Strategies and Jayson Benoit & Associates, Inc., both of which have ties to the troubled Harbor City investment firm.
Benoit was the CTO at Harbor City and is the registered agent for Redstone.
And here’s where it keeps getting weirder: Two other firms associated with Benoit— Red Strategies and Paul Nicolini and Associates, which were formed in 2021—were paid by Republican congressional campaigns in New York.
Red Strategies received $110,000 from a far-right extremist candidate, Tina Forte, who ran a troll-like campaign against Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and lost badly. By no small coincidence, Dames pops up here again as the treasurer of Forte’s campaign.
Paul Nicolini, another regional director of Harbor City, was authorized to manage and control Red Strategies.
With all these tangled and interlocking webs, we still don’t know where Devolder’s and by extension Santos’ money came from in 2022.
Who were Devolder’s clients? What assets did it hold, if any?
One tantalizing clue to Santos’ sudden wealth came again from reporting by The Daily Beast, which noted that a relative of a notorious Russian oligarch, Viktor Vekselberg, whose name is on a U.S. sanctions list and whose home was raided by authorities earlier in the year, donated $32,800 to Santos’ campaign, an amount that would more than double later.
The Money Trail Could Lead to Charges
It is early, and we don’t know quite enough yet, but in all likelihood there will be further investigations into George Santos’ finances and in particular his federal election disclosures.
If he lied about the source of his income or the amount of the loan, or if he is in the pocket of undisclosed third parties, this is likely to come out.
As we sadly learned in 2016, there’s no law that prevents a pathological liar from taking office.
Federal law does not permit the House to refuse to seat someone who otherwise meets the constitutional requirements of age, citizenship, and residency. Setting aside the citizenship question, which could come back to haunt Santos, the fact he lied to the public simply isn’t sufficient basis to refuse to seat him.
(The case covering this is called Powell v. McCormack, and it also involved a House member accused of financial wrongdoing.) So barring Santos’ resignation to avoid further trouble, we may once again see the unwelcome sight of a serial liar take his oath of office.
But if Santos broke election finance laws, that could result in Santos’ resignation down the road. The FEC and the Justice Department may take interest in Santos’ financial disclosures and whether they are legitimate or, like the rest of his life, sheer fabrication.
The penalties for misrepresenting your finances on such disclosures are substantial, and such cases are frequently prosecuted. The State Attorney General’s office is looking into the possibility of wrongdoing by Santos as well, though it has not made any public announcements.
There is also a strong possibility of a House Ethics Committee investigation, generated by the independent Office of Congressional Ethics and referred afterwards to the Committee, which is evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats.
Whether Republicans have any appetite to bring down one of their own with such a narrow margin for their majority remains to be seen, but it is unlikely.
On the Democratic side, however, the urgency is already palpable: One member, Ritchie Torres (D-NY), who happens to be gay and Afro-Latino, has already called for a full House ethics investigation.