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N.Y. Rep. George Santos pleads not guilty to federal fraud charges

U.S. Rep. George Santos leaves the Capitol Hill Club as members of the press follow him on January 31, 2023 in Washington, DC. Amid ongoing investigations into his finances, campaign spending and false statements on the campaign trail.
Alex Wong
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U.S. Rep. George Santos leaves the Capitol Hill Club as members of the press follow him on January 31, 2023 in Washington, DC. Amid ongoing investigations into his finances, campaign spending and false statements on the campaign trail.

CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. — Republican Rep. George Santos surrendered to federal authorities at a courthouse in suburban Long Island on Wednesday facing 13 counts of criminal wrongdoing.

Federal prosecutors say he allegedly "devised and executed a scheme" aimed at defrauding donors to his 2022 political campaign.

"This indictment seeks to hold Santos accountable for various alleged fraudulent schemes and brazen misrepresentations," said U.S. Attorney Breon Peace.

"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."

According to the criminal indictments, Santos claimed the money would fuel his bid for office, but instead spent the cash on luxury designer clothes and to make a car payment and pay personal credit card bills.

Santos also faces a charge that in 2020, he fraudulently applied to receive unemployment benefits when he was employed and running for Congress in his first bid for public office.

"At the height of the pandemic in 2020, George Santos allegedly applied for and received unemployment benefits while he was employed and running for Congress," Nassau County District Attorney Anne Donnelly said in a statement.

Her office aided in the investigation.

The freshman lawmaker pushed the boundaries of conventional political scandal after his victory in last November's midterms. It was revealed that he fabricated most of the persona presented to voters.

Santos lied in interviews and campaign documents about his education, his professional accomplishments, his record as a champion volleyball player and his family's experiences in the Holocaust.

He also faced multiple investigations into how he raised and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign cash, including a mysterious $700,000 gift he made to his own election effort.

It remains unclear where that money came from.

Santos, who has announced he plans to run for reelection in 2024, has become a pariah among many GOP leaders in New York, especially on Long Island.

The influential Nassau County Republican Committee distanced itself from Santos and called for him to resign.

Santos has remained defiant and at times even seemed to revel in the glare of media attention.

He has previously admitted to "embellishing" his resume, but repeatedly denied any criminal wrongdoing.

On May 6, Santos posted on Twitter a photo of a fortune cookie he said he had received at a meal.

"Life is more fun when you're the underdog competing against the giants," the fortune read.

The Santos controversy has created a political headache for Republicans, especially in New York, where GOP candidates face tough reelection fights next year.

Speaking Tuesday, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said he wouldn't demand that Santos resign.

He compared the criminal charges against Santos to past cases involving Democratic lawmakers who remained in office while their cases played out.

"If a person is indicted, they're not on committees, they have the right to vote, but they have to go to trial."

Phone calls to Santos' congressional offices and to his attorney have gone unanswered. Santos also hasn't commented about the charges on Twitter.

Separate probes are also underway by the Nassau County district attorney in New York and the House Ethics Committee in Washington, D.C.

A statement released by the House panel in April stated an investigative subcommittee will examine whether Santos "engaged in unlawful activity" during his 2022 campaign.
Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Brian Mann
Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.