U.S. Rep. George Santos, who faced outrage and mockery over a litany of fabrications about his heritage, education and professional pedigree, has been charged with federal criminal offenses, two people familiar with the matter told The Associated Press.
The charges against Santos, filed in the Eastern District of New York, remain under seal.
The people could not discuss specific details of the case and spoke to The AP on condition of anonymity.
Reached on Tuesday, Santos said, “This is news to me.”
“You’re the first to call me about this,” he said in a brief phone interview.
The charges were first reported by CNN.
The New York Republican has admitted to lying about having Jewish ancestry, a Wall Street background, college degrees and a history as a star volleyball player. Serious questions about his finances also surfaced — including the source of what he claimed was a quickly amassed fortune despite recent financial problems, including evictions and owing thousands of dollars in back rent.
Santos has resisted calls to resign and recently announced he was running for reelection. He said his lies about his life story, which included telling people he had jobs at several global financial firms and a lavish real estate portfolio, were harmless embellishments of his resume.
Pressure on him to quit, though, has been intense. Reporters and members of the public hounded him. He was mocked on social media and late-night television. Fellow New York Republicans demanded he resign, saying he had betrayed voters and his own party with his lies.
Nassau County prosecutors and the New York attorney general’s office had previously said they were looking into possible violations of the law.
Besides questions about his life story, Santos’ campaign spending stoked scrutiny because of unusual payments for travel, lodging and other items.
The nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center lodged a complaint with the Federal Election Commission and urged regulators to investigate Santos. The “mountain of lies” Santos propagated during the campaign about his life story and qualifications, the center said, should prompt the commission to “thoroughly investigate what appear to be equally brazen lies about how his campaign raised and spent money.”
In his filings with the FEC, Santos initially said he loaned his campaign and related political action committees more than $750,000 — money he claimed came from a family company.
Yet, the wealth necessary to make those loans seems to have emerged from nowhere. In a financial disclosure statement filed with the clerk of the U.S. House in 2020, Santos said he had no assets and an annual income of $55,000.
His company, the Devolder Organization, wasn’t incorporated until spring 2021. Yet last September, Santos filed another financial disclosure form reporting that this new company, incorporated in Florida, had paid him a $750,000 salary in each of the last two years, plus another $1 million to $5 million in dividends. In one interview, Santos described the Devolder Organization as a business that helped rich people buy things like yachts and aircraft.
Court records indicate Santos was the subject of three eviction proceedings in Queens between 2014 and 2017 because of unpaid rent.
Some Republicans, including those in his district, have sharply castigated Santos for his dishonesty. The Nassau County Republican Committee, which had supported his candidacy, said it would not support Santos for reelection.
Santos lost his first race for Congress in 2020 but ran again in 2022 and won in a district that is in the suburbs of Long Island and a sliver of Queens.
A local newspaper, the North Shore Leader, had raised issues about Santos’ background before the election but it was not until a few weeks after the election that the depth of his duplicity became public.
The New York Times reported that companies where Santos claimed to have worked, Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, had no record of him having been an employee. Baruch College, where Santos claimed to have gotten a degree in finance and economics, said he hadn’t been a student.
Beyond his resume, Santos invented a life story that has also come under question, including claims that his grandparents “fled Jewish persecution in Ukraine, settled in Belgium, and again fled persecution during WWII.”
During his campaign, he referred to himself as “a proud American Jew.”
Confronted with questions about that story, Santos, a Roman Catholic, said he never intended to claim Jewish heritage.
The Times also uncovered records in Brazil that show Santos, when he was 19, was the subject of a criminal investigation there in 2008 over allegations he used stolen checks to buy items at a clothing shop in the city of Niteroi, which is near Rio de Janeiro. Brazilian authorities said they have reopened the case.