MAGA House Candidate Haunted by Gig at Reputed Ponzi Scheme

Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/George Santos/SEC
Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/George Santos/SEC

A young, gay Republican born in New York City to Brazilian immigrants, congressional candidate George Devolder-Santos has embraced a public image as a “walking, living, breathing contradiction.”

But the would-be successor to Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-New York) seems less eager to share another detail of his personal story: for all his rants against “the swamp,” Devolder-Santos served as a director of an investment firm authorities say bilked millions of dollars from its customers.

Despite running in a solidly blue district, Devolder-Santos has managed to capture media attention with his atypical political identity and fiery denunciations of socialism, as well as his unabashed cheerleading of ex-President Donald Trump.

In January 2021, he lit up LGBTQ outlets and tabloid publications when he claimed his fiancé had lost his job and the couple had to flee their home as a result of the New York Times linking to his Instagram in a story about a maskless New Year’s Eve party at ex-President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort.

More recently, he’s won attention for first bashing Ukraine—where his grandfather was born—as a “totalitarian regime” to the Washington Post, then later urging prayers for the nation in a spot on Fox News.

Despite all the publicity, one fact about Devolder-Santos has eluded scrutiny: the Securities and Exchange Commission accused his most recent employer, Harbor City Capital, last April of operating as a Ponzi scheme that ripped off investors to the tune of $6 million.

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According to the federal complaint, Harbor City never allocated more than $449,000 of the $17.1 million it raised from clients toward business expenses. Instead, the SEC said, in classic Ponzi fashion, the company used $6.5 million of those funds to repay early buyers of its securities, misrepresenting those disbursements as returns on investment rather than the money of subsequent buyers-in.

Meanwhile, Harbor City founder Jonathan Maroney allegedly splashed company cash on a $90,000 Mercedes, $1.35 million in credit card bills, $1.6 million on a new house and renovations, plus millions more transferred to his wife and other corporate entities.

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Maroney’s personal lawyer, Mark O’Mara—famous for defending George Zimmerman—did not respond to repeated requests for comment. The case has entered mediation, often a precursor to a settlement, and while not pleading guilty, Maroney has acceded to a freeze of his corporate assets and the appointment of an independent receiver to manage them.

Devolder-Santos, who became Harbor Capital’s New York regional director in June 2020 but was not named in the SEC complaint, denied any knowledge of malfeasance at the firm.

“I’m as distraught and disturbed as everyone else is,” he told The Daily Beast.

The candidate joined the company in the middle of his first attempt at winning Suozzi’s Long Island and Queens-based seat, in which the Republican ultimately fell short by more than 12 points. He said that he exited the company on March 1 of last year, more than a month before the SEC charges hit, after determining the job had constrained his political ambitions.

“I stepped aside from all of my obligations in 2021, and I did not do that previously, and I find that to have hindered the success of my run for office,” he said in a phone interview. “So this time around I premeditated [and] stepped aside from all my working activities, all the board positions I held, including employment with Harbor City and many other things, so I can focus solely on the campaign, so I can get this campaign right and win.”

But Devolder-Santos’s campaign webpage continued to allude to him as Harbor City’s regional director at least as late as last June, two months after the allegations landed, with the site stating that he “oversees the firm’s expansion within the private wealth side of the business.”

The candidate called this an “oversight.” Speaking on the phone, he also asserted that he was “just an account manager” at the company, with no executive power.

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The campaign website’s current incarnation includes no reference to Harbor City, even though it describes the rest of his employment history in detail.

Despite his claim of having forsaken all gainful endeavors, Devolder-Santos has in fact embarked on multiple new business ventures in the past year.

Last May, he incorporated The Devolder Organization in Florida with the help of an accountant who served as Harbor City’s chief financial officer. The Devolder Organization is in turn one of six stakeholders in Red Strategies USA, another firm founded in the Sunshine State that same month. Five of the six companies involved in Red Strategies belong to former Harbor City employees, including the ex-CFO; the last belongs to Devolder-Santos’s campaign treasurer. None of the individuals involved were singled out in the SEC complaint for any alleged misconduct.

“That company too was all the people who were left adrift I tried to help,” Devolder-Santos maintained. “We all got together to start a business, but that was dissolved as well, already.”

But Florida state records show Red Strategies as an active concern, and Federal Election Commission disclosures reveal the firm continued to receive payments from Tina Forte—a QAnon-friendly challenger to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez—through the end of December 2021.

The federally-appointed receiver of Harbor City’s accounts told The Daily Beast that they could not provide any information about when the company’s relationship with Devolder-Santos came to an end. But they noted the firm presently has no employees and its assets have been frozen since the SEC brought its case. Devolder-Santos said he “has cooperated with any information I’ve been asked for,” though he would not confirm whether any federal authority had questioned him.

Suozzi is not seeking re-election to his seat, but instead pursuing a longshot bid against New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, a fellow Democrat. Devolder-Santos is the only Republican seeking the seat, while a fierce primary is underway on the opposite side of the aisle to replace the moderate Suozzi, with seven candidates battling for the Democratic nomination.

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