U.S. Rep. George Santos pleaded not guilty on Wednesday afternoon to a 13-count indictment, which includes allegations of wire fraud, theft of public funds and making false statements to Congress.
The charges against Santos, whose fraudulent resume was exposed by the New York Times and other media outlets earlier this year, include 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 Congress, officials announced Wednesday.
He was arrested Wednesday morning and pleaded not guilty to U.S. Magistrate Judge Arlene R. Lindsay at the federal courthouse in Central Islip.
Santos described the indictment and probe into his personal, professional and financial background as a “witch hunt,” according to the Associated Press.
“This is the beginning of the ability for me to address and defend myself,” Santos told reporters, according to the Associated Press.
Santos’ attorney, Joseph Murray, told reporters that he and his client cannot take the charges put forward by federal prosecutors lightly.
“Any time the federal government comes after you it’s a serious case,” Murray said, according to the Associated Press. “We have to take this seriously.”
Efforts to reach officials for further comment were unavailing.
Santos told reporters that he would not be resigning from Congress, according to Newsday.
The FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice have been investigating the congressman’s campaign filings. Santos told the Associated Press on Tuesday that he was unaware of the charges against him.
Santos, in 2022, allegedly defrauded prospective political supporters and used a Queens-based political consultant to tell donors that their money would be used for his congressional campaign, officials said. A pair of unidentified donors transferred $25,000 each into an LLC controlled by Santos before those funds were transferred to Santos’ personal bank accounts, officials said.
Santos allegedly used the funds for personal purchases, withdrew cash, transfer money to his associates and settle personal debts, officials said.
In June 2020, officials said, Santos was employed as a regional director for a Florida-based investment firm, but applied for government assistance through the New York State Department of Labor, claiming he had been unemployed since March 2020. From March 2020 to April 2021, officials said, Santos received more than $24,000 in fraudulent unemployment insurance benefits.
In May 2020, Santos filed two fraudulent House Disclosures in connection with his unsuccessful run for Congress against former U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi, officials said.
In those disclosures, he allegedly overstated the income he received from a second company he worked at and did not disclose the salary he received from the Florida-based investment firm, according to officials.
In September 2022, during his most recent run for Congress, Santos falsely claimed he earned $750,000 in salary from the Devolder Organization LLC, which he was the sole beneficial owner, received between $1,00,001 and $5,000,000 in dividends from the Devolder Organization LLC, had a checking account with deposits between $100,001 and $250,000 and had a savings accounts with deposits between $1,000,001 and $5,000,000, according to officials.
He also failed to disclose to the House that he received around $28,000 in income from the Florida-based investment firm and more than $20,000 in unemployment benefits from the labor department, according to officials.
Santos defeated Democrat Robert Zimmerman in the 3rd Congressional District election in November. He announced the launch of his re-election campaign last month, despite a lack of support from local and state GOP organizations, including the Nassau County Republican Party.
The FBI and justice department’s probe into Santos’ political finance history is one of the various investigations the congressman is at the center of since the unearthing of falsehoods in his resume in January.
The Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit organization that aims to advance democracy through the law, questioned the newly elected congressman’s influx of wealth after he reported a salary of $55,000 in 2020, which rose to $750,000 in 2022 and $1 million to $5 million in dividends.
The organization also called the congressman’s $705,000 loan to his campaign into question, claiming he falsified reports on nearly 40 expenditure filings under $200.
The center filed the complaint with the Federal Election Commission and the Public Integrity Section of the U.S. Department of Justice in January.
The Federal Election Commission said in a letter to the Devolder Santos Nassau Victory Committee that three donors made contributions exceeding the legal limits by $76,000.
The House Ethics Committee launched a formal investigation into Santos in March and will scrutinize his most recent congressional campaign, officials announced.
The committee will determine if the embattled representative failed to properly disclose information and statements to Congress, engaged in sexual misconduct with someone seeking employment in his D.C. office and violated potential federal conflict-of-interest laws.