U.S. Rep. George Santos gained a reputation as a modern-day Pinocchio after he was caught fabricating his background about everything from working for Goldman Sachs and producing Broadway musical Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark to being a man of Jewish heritage. Now, a new lie has just come to light: The U.S. Justice Department has accused Santos of collecting COVID benefits while working a six-figure job.
Shortly after the Republican was elected to Congress in November 2022, the New York Times revealed big holes in Santos’ résumé as well as missing info on his financial documents and “criminal charges for check fraud.” His misrepresentations only continued to be exposed from there, coming to a head in an indictment on Wednesday in which prosecutors charged him with 13 criminal counts, including money laundering and unemployment fraud.
Santos applied for unemployment benefits in March 2020 from the New York State Department of Labor, per court documents, continuing to certify his eligibility from June of that year to April 2021. He ultimately received $24,744—all while raking in a $120,000 salary working at an investment firm (the New York Times identified the firm as Harbor City Capital, which the SEC later accused of running “a classic Ponzi scheme”).
It’s all a bit ironic: Santos cashed in thousands committing the very fraud he sought to stop.
He was one of the 35 co-sponsors for the Protecting Taxpayers and Victims of Unemployment Fraud Act, which was designed to protect local governments against anyone who misleadingly filed for unemployment during the early pandemic. The law allows the states to keep 25% of fraudulent benefit overpayments they recovered and extends the statute of limitations for pressing charges to 10 years.
Enforcing tougher requirements for federal aid has been a large part of the Republican party’s platform in the past few years. When the pandemic first hit, the unemployment rate in the U.S. was the highest it’s been since the Great Depression. Many Americans filed for unemployment and received stimulus packages as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which allocated almost $250 billion in unemployment benefits to the massive number of those who were out of work.
While the aid allowed households to build an unprecedented amount of wealth and helped spur economic mobility, Republicans largely criticized the relief, arguing that it helped fuel inflation and that people were taking advantage of it. Early research from the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that over $60 billion went to fraudulent unemployment insurance payments. In an attempt to crack down on these benefits, they pushed the unemployment fraud act—with Santos largely supporting such measures.
Now, the pot is calling the kettle black. Santos pleaded not guilty to all 13 federal charges, taking to Twitter to tweet out “WITCH HUNT!”