Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) is in custody Wednesday after being indicted on 13 federal charges over accusations that he misled donors and misrepresented his finances to the public and government agencies.
The charges comprise seven counts of wire fraud, three counts of money laundering, one count of theft of public funds and two counts of making materially false statements to the House of Representatives.
Santos pleaded not guilty Wednesday afternoon and was released on a $500,000 bond. His next court appearance is on June 30 before U.S. District Judge Joanna Seybert, who was nominated by then-President Clinton in 1993.
The Hill reached out to Santos’s attorney for comment. The congressman’s congressional office referred The Hill to his counsel.
Santos’s surrender came one day after reports surfaced that federal prosecutors filed criminal charges against the congressman. The charges, however, remained sealed until Wednesday morning.
The top charge of wire fraud carries a maximum jail time of 20 years. The judge can decide to make any sentences run concurrently if Santos is convicted on multiple counts.
“This indictment seeks to hold Santos accountable for various alleged fraudulent schemes and brazen misrepresentations,” U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said in a statement. “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. 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 New York Republican has been the subject of intense scrutiny since before he was sworn in amid questions about his resume and biography. A number of entities are said to be looking into him, in addition to the House Ethics Committee, which launched an investigation in March.
Several lawmakers from both parties have been calling for the congressman to resign, some of whom re-upped that stance after news surfaced of the charges against him.
Some have said he should be expelled.
On Wednesday, Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas) joined the ranks of those calling for Santos’s expulsion.
“The people of New York’s 3rd district deserve a voice in congress. George Santos should be immediately expelled from Congress and a special election initiated at the soonest possible date,” he wrote on Twitter.
Despite the indictment, however, Santos can remain in Congress and continue to represent his district.
According to House Rules, if a member is charged with criminal conduct as a felony that carries a sentence of two or more years in prison, they should resign from committees and step aside from party leadership until legal proceedings result in an acquittal or a dismissal or if charges are reduced to less than a felony. Santos does not serve in House GOP leadership, and he stepped down from his committee assignments in January amid his growing controversy.
On Tuesday, amid reports that prosecutors filed charges against Santos, Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) — who has stopped short of calling on Santos to resign — said he would deal with the developing situation as he has with lawmakers who have been indicted in the past.
He referred to those comments on Wednesday when asked about the indictment.
“He could go through his time of trial, we’ll find out how the outcome is,” McCarthy told reporters.
Asked if the allegations of money laundering, wire fraud and lying to Congress concerned him, McCarthy responded, “always concerns me.”
Also on Wednesday, after the charges were unsealed, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) and House GOP Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik — the highest-ranking New York Republican — both did not say Santos should resign, stressing letting the legal process play out.
Scalise did, however, call the charges “serious.”
“There is a legal process. The charges just came out; we just saw some of them this morning. And so in America, there’s a presumption of innocence, but they’re serious charges. He’s gonna have to go through the legal process,” Scalise said at a press conference.
“As I’ve said from the very beginning on questions on this subject, this legal process is going to play itself out,” Stefanik echoed. “Unfortunately, this is not the first time a member of Congress from either party has been indicted. There are a set of rules and, as the majority leader stated, he voluntarily had stepped down from his committees.”
The 13 counts revolve around three schemes in which Santos is accused of misrepresenting his finances to the public and government agencies.
More than half of the charges — five wire fraud counts and three counts of money laundering — relate to allegations Santos directed an unnamed person to communicate with potential donors to falsely tell them their funds would be used to purchase television advertisements for Santos’s campaign.
But the donations were instead purportedly transferred to Santos’s personal bank accounts, and he used the funds for personal expenses, including purchasing designer clothing and discharging his personal debts, according to the indictment.
The indictment also alleges Santos fraudulently received more than $24,000 in unemployment benefits after falsely claiming he was unemployed during the early months of the pandemic. Prosecutors charged Santos with theft of public money and an additional two counts of wire fraud.
The indictment further includes two counts of false statements to the House of Representatives over Santos’s financial disclosures in May 2020 and September 2022 during his congressional campaigns.
Santos is accused of failing to disclose various income sources while, in other instances, overstating the income he received. Santos also falsely represented the deposits he had in two bank accounts, according to the indictment.
Updated at 2:28 p.m.