A former fundraiser for U.S. Rep. George Santos pleaded guilty Tuesday to a federal wire fraud charge, admitting he impersonated a high-ranking congressional aide while raising campaign cash for the embattled New York Republican.
Sam Miele was caught soliciting donations in late 2021 under the alias Dan Meyer, who was then chief of staff for Rep. Kevin McCarthy, when the former House speaker was the Republican minority leader, according to Santos. Federal authorities still have not confirmed that Meyer was the aide who Miele impersonated.
Miele, 27, who had been indicted on four wire fraud charges and one count of aggravated identity theft, is scheduled to be sentenced April 30. He faces more than two years in prison, according to estimated sentencing guidelines, a spokesperson for the U.S. attorney’s office said.
He also acknowledged he committed access device fraud by charging credit cards without authorization to send money to the campaigns of Santos and other political candidates, and for his own personal use, prosecutors said. That fraud totaled about $100,000, they said.
“The defendant used fraud and deceit to steal more than $100,000 from his victims, funneling this money into the campaign committees of candidates for the House, and into his own pockets,” Breon Peace, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said in a statement. “Defrauding potential political contributors undermines our democracy, and we will vigorously prosecute such conduct.”
Miele’s lawyer, Kevin Marino, said in a statement after the plea that “Sam Miele is an intelligent young man with a bright future who made an unfortunate mistake. He has taken full responsibility for his actions and looks forward to putting this episode behind him and getting on with his life.”
Marino did not respond to other questions about the plea, including whether Miele would testify against Santos.
Miele also agreed to pay about $109,000 in restitution, to forfeit another $69,000 and to make a $470,000 payment to a campaign contributor, prosecutors said.
Miele is the second campaign aide to Santos who took a plea deal in a federal probe. Last month, the ex-treasurer for Santos, Nancy Marks, pleaded guilty to a fraud conspiracy charge and implicated Santos in a scheme to embellish his campaign finance reports with a fake loan and fake donors.
Santos himself is facing a 23-count federal indictment that alleges he stole the identities of campaign donors and then used their credit cards to make tens of thousands of dollars in unauthorized charges. Federal prosecutors say Santos wired some of the money to his personal bank account and used the rest to pad his campaign coffers.
Santos, who represents parts of Queens and Long Island, is also accused of falsely reporting to the Federal Elections Commission that he had loaned his campaign $500,000 when he actually hadn’t given anything and had less than $8,000 in the bank. The fake loan was an attempt to convince Republican Party officials that he was a serious candidate, worth their financial support, the indictment says.
Santos has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him and has vowed to clear his name. Marks’ lawyer has said Marks would be willing to testify against Santos, which could deliver a severe blow to the congressman. It wasn’t immediately clear if Miele agreed to testify against Santos.
Earlier this month, Santos survived a vote to expel him from the House. Most Republicans and 31 Democrats opposed the measure while both his criminal case and a House Ethics Committee investigation proceed.
In an interview with The Associated Press in August, Santos said he promptly fired Miele in late 2021 after being informed that Miele had impersonated Meyer.
Santos also recounted what he believed was an attempt by Miele last summer to try to rejoin Santos’ campaign. Santos said his campaign received a lunch invitation from a purported deep-pocketed donor named Reyem Nad — which is Dan Meyer spelled backward.
“It’s like he’s obsessive and compulsive on that name,” Santos said. “You and I, if we got caught doing something stupid like that, the last thing we’d do is go anywhere near that name.”
Santos, who gained notoriety for fabricating major parts of his life story during his run for office, said he discovered Miele had sent the invitation. Santos did not go to the lunch but sent Marks, who told Miele he was not getting his job back, according to a Santos spokesperson.
Prosecutors said Miele’s impersonation included setting up a dummy email address resembling Meyer’s name as he reached out to more than a dozen donors between August and December of 2021.