George Santos calls federal charges a ‘witch hunt’ and refuses to resign following arrest

The New York Republican has been accused of a litany of lies during his congressional campaign

Richard Hall
Wednesday 10 May 2023 20:24 BST
George Santos arrested on 13 federal charges

George Santos described criminal charges against him as a “witch hunt” in a defiant press conference following his arrest on Wednesday.

The New York congressman spoke outside a federal courthouse after being arraigned on charges of fraud, theft of public funds and money laundering.

“It’s a witch hunt,” he told a crowd of reporters. “I’m gonna fight my battle, I’m gonna deliver, I’m gonna fight the witch hunt, I’m gonna take care of clearing my name,” he said, adding that he was planning to run for re-election.

The 34-year-old congressman for New York’s 3rd District, who won his election after a campaign that was littered with lies about his past, was arrested shortly after 9am after turning himself in to authorities.

In the 13-count indictment, unsealed on Wednesday morning, federal prosecutors accused Mr Santos of lying on financial disclosure forms he filed to the House when he became a candidate, first by overstating his income from one job and failing to disclose income from another, and second by lying about his earnings from his company, the Devolder Organization.

Prosecutors also allege that Mr Santos fraudulently used donations to his political campaign for his own benefit, spending “thousands of dollars of the solicited funds on personal expenses, including luxury designer clothing and credit card payments.”

The indictment alleges that Mr Santos’ fraud began before his successful run for Congress, accusing him of running an unemployment insurance fraud scheme in which he applied for government assistance in New York while still employed by a Florida-based investment firm.

“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,” Breon Peace, the US attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said in a statement.

Mr Santos pleaded not guilty to the charges and was released on a $500,000 bond following his arraignment, which lasted for around 15 minutes. His lawyer said that the congressman surrendered his passport to the court.

Mr Santos could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Mr Santos was elected to represent New York’s 3rd Congressional District in November 2022, defeating Democrat Robert Zimmerman by a margin of 54 per cent to 46 per cent. Soon after that victory, it emerged that Mr Santos had lied about much of his personal history and work experience.

A New York Times investigation found that he had lied about working for Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, lied about the college he attended, fabricated an animal charity, that the company from which he had earned a salary of $750,000 and dividends of $1m did not have any online presence, lied about saying he lost four employees in the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, in 2016, and that he faced criminal charges in Brazil for alleged cheque fraud.

The revelations set off a firestorm in his district. A local pressure group started by local citizens was formed with the aim of forcing Mr Santos from office. Concerned Citizens of NY03 held regular protests outside his campaign office and called on Republican leaders to expel him from Congress.

Many local Republicans had already called for Mr Santos to resign, but their colleagues in the House of Representatives have been more reluctant.

Republican House speaker leader Kevin McCarthy — the person with the power to call the vote — refused to do so, instead leaving his fate to the House Ethics Committee.

Reacting to news that charges were imminent on Tuesday, Mr McCarthy signalled that Mr Santos would be allowed to continue serving in Congress.

“I’ll look at the charges,” he told reporters. “If a person is indicted, they’re not on committees. They have the right to vote, but they have to go to trial.”

Since Mr Santos was sworn into office in January, revelations about his past have continued to emerge. The most recent report found that Mr Santos was charged with writing bad checks to purchase puppies from Amish farmers in 2017. That case was dismissed after Mr Santos claimed his checkbook had been stolen, and that someone else had taken the dogs.

Mr Santos, 34, has apologised for what he described as “résumé embellishment,” but has refused to resign.

The Independent has reached out to Mr Santos’s office and his legal team.

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