What to Know About the George Santos Charges and What Happens Next

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol Addresses Joint Meeting Of Congress
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol Addresses Joint Meeting Of Congress
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Representative George Santos, a Republican from New York, during a joint meeting of Congress with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, US, on Thursday, April 27, 2023. Credit - Nathan Howard—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Federal prosecutors have charged Rep. George Santos on more than a dozen counts for allegedly violating campaign finance laws and defrauding prospective donors to his campaign.

The embattled first-term Republican congressman from New York, who falsified much of his biography on the campaign trail, surrendered to authorities on Wednesday morning and appeared in a federal courthouse in Long Island in the afternoon.

Prosecutors said the charges resulted from “fraudulent schemes and brazen misrepresentations.” “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,” U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said. “He used political contributions to line his pockets, unlawfully applied for unemployment benefits that should have gone to New Yorkers who had lost their jobs due to the pandemic, and lied to the House of Representatives.”

Santos pleaded not guilty to all charges and is being released from federal custody on a $500,000 bond. “I have no desire not to comply at this point,” Santos said outside the courtroom after his arraignment, repeatedly referring to the federal probe as a “witch hunt.” He said he will not resign and will continue to run for re-election in 2024. “I’m going to fight the witch hunt, I’m going to take care of clearing my name,” he added.

Here’s what to know.

What are the charges?

The 13-count indictment against Santos includes 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 the House of Representatives.

More than half of the charges relate to allegations that Santos solicited donations from political donors and then pocketed the funds for personal expenses. In the indictment, prosecutors allege that then-candidate Santos directed an unnamed person to solicit donations to a company he falsely represented both as a social welfare organization and a super PAC that would be used to purchase television advertisements for his 2022 campaign. But the donations were instead purportedly transferred to Santos’s personal bank accounts, which he used to buy designer goods and pay off personal debts, according to prosecutors.

As part of that donor solicitation scheme, prosecutors accused Santos of committing five counts of wire fraud by falsely telling potential donors that contributions would be used for his congressional campaign. He was also charged with three counts of money laundering in connection to the scheme.

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Prosecutors charged Santos with two more counts of wire fraud and one count of stealing public money as part of an unemployment insurance fraud scheme. They claim that in June 2020, in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Santos applied for unemployment benefits in New York, even though he was at the time employed by a Florida-based investment firm and earned an annual salary of $120,000. Prosecutors said he falsely certified that he was unemployed, and collected more than $24,000 from the state in benefits. (As a lawmaker, Santos was part of a group of GOP lawmakers pushing for stronger work requirements for Medicaid beneficiaries.)

The two counts of lying to Congress are related to financial disclosure forms he filed as a candidate in 2020, when federal prosecutors say he overstated the income he received in one job and failed to disclose his salary from another firm. The indictment alleges that Santos falsely certified that he had a $750,000 salary and received between $1 million and $5 million in dividends from his company, the Devolder Organization. “These assertions were false,” prosecutors noted in a press release. “Santos had not received from the Devolder Organization the reported amounts of salary or dividends.”

Prosecutors also allege that Santos lied about having a checking account that held between $100,000 and $250,000 and a savings account with deposits of between $1 and $5 million.

In federal court Wednesday afternoon, Santos pleaded not guilty to all charges. “I believe I’m innocent,” he told reporters.

When will he appear in court?

Santos surrendered to authorities at a federal court in Central Islip, N.Y. on Wednesday morning, and was arraigned in the afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Arlene R. Lindsay.

He was released on a $500,000 bond and had to surrender his passport to federal authorities. His next court appearance will be on June 30 before U.S. District Judge Joanna Seybert.

His lawyer, Joseph Murray, told reporters at the courthouse that Santos plans on continuing his 2024 reelection campaign, but that his travel outside of D.C., New York City, and Long Island must be pre-approved, according to the Associated Press.

How Republicans have responded

Many Republicans had already called on Santos to resign after it was revealed that he fabricated much of his biography while campaigning, and he had already been stripped of his committee assignments. But House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and House GOP leaders have so far not called for his resignation. Republicans hold a slim four-seat majority in the House and Santos’ district—New York’s 3rd District—is historically competitive, and has voted for a Democratic presidential candidate in every election since 2004.

“I’ll look at the charges,” McCarthy told reporters on Tuesday, before the indictment outlining the 13 charges was unsealed. He said Santos would be able to continue doing congressional work in the meantime: “If a person is indicted, they’re not on committees. They have the right to vote, but they have to go to trial.” But McCarthy added that his opinion could change if Santos were found guilty.

“He was already removed from all his committees,” Rep. Steve Scalise, Republican of Louisiana and majority leader, said during a morning news conference. “In America, there is a presumption of innocence, but they’re serious charges. He’s going to have to go through the legal process.”

Rep. Elise Stefanik, Republican of New York and conference chair, asserted that the legal process would “play itself out.”

Santos said outside the courtroom that he appreciates his party’s leadership for “being patient” with him and with the legal process. He also claimed: “I’ll be a chairman of a committee in a few years.”

Other Republicans who aren’t in leadership have been more forceful in their responses. “The people of New York’s 3rd district deserve a voice in congress,” Republican Rep. Tony Gonzalez of Texas wrote on Twitter. “George Santos should be immediately expelled from Congress and a special election initiated at the soonest possible date.”

“We all knew this was where things were heading,” Rep. Nicole Malliotakis of New York told Axios in a statement. “The sooner he leaves, the sooner we can win the seat with someone who isn’t a liar.”

What happens next

If Santos is convicted of the charges against him, he faces a maximum prison sentence of 20 years on the top count, according to the U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York.

But there is no law or precedent that says a member of Congress cannot continue to serve while indicted, and there have been numerous instances of legislators keeping their position until they were found guilty and resigned. Most recently, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, Republican of Nebraska, was indicted in 2021 for felony charges related to lying to federal authorities who were investigating illegal contributions. He continued to serve until March 2022 when he was convicted, at which point he resigned.

A resolution to expel Santos from Congress would need votes from two-thirds of the House to pass, which means nearly 70 Republicans would have to join Democrats.

This isn’t Santos’ only potential legal exposure. He’s also currently facing a House Ethics Committee investigation into his campaign finance expenditures, past business practices, and an allegation of sexual misconduct. And he faces a criminal case in Brazil for check fraud in 2008, when he spent nearly $700 using a stolen checkbook and a false name, according to court records. Santos confessed to the theft but the case was paused when police were unable to locate him after he moved to the U.S.

“This has been an experience—for a book or something like that,” Santos said Wednesday.