By his own admission, George Santos had his “back against the wall.”
Faced with a precarious situation in his bid to represent New York’s 3rd Congressional district, Santos was constantly low on cash and under pressure, per a new indictment against the freshman congressman unsealed on Tuesday.
In response, prosecutors said, Santos launched a scheme breathtaking in its brazenness and almost comical in its execution: he would con the National Republican Congressional Committee into supporting him, and take his own donors’ for a ride by running wild with their credit cards. The alleged frauds supported a myth which Santos had worked hard to create: that of a wealthy, successful young businessman who could afford to splash on luxury brands while casually loaning $500,000 to his own campaign.
That was based on a series of lies, but prosecutors – through text messages and forensic accounting – portrayed Santos as grifting to keep his facade of wealth from crumbling in order to maintain access to the Republican Party’s support apparatus.
In reality, prosecutors alleged, Santos was almost broke after a stint working for Harbor City, an investment firm that has been described by the SEC as a “ponzi scheme.” He had previously failed to win New York’s 3rd Congressional District in 2020. But in 2022, Santos might have hoped for a better outcome: The incumbent, Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY), wasn’t running for reelection after a failed bid at the governor’s office and the 2022 midterms were predicted to offer the most favorable ground for Republican candidates in years.
And yet, there was a problem: he wasn’t raising enough money.
In the indictment, prosecutors described Santos’ frantic efforts to win financial and logistical support from a program for candidates led by an organization that was only identified as “National Party Committee #1.” Details in the court filing confirm the prosecutors were referring to the National Republican Congressional Committee’s “Young Guns” program for first time House hopefuls. The program, which ultimately gave Santos a major boost, was run by then-House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. It was named for the moniker that was given to McCarthy and his conservative colleagues — Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor — in 2010 when they were ascendant and seen as the next generation to lead the party. As of McCarthy’s ouster from the speakership last week, the trio of “Young Guns” are all out of leadership, and two-thirds are out of Congress. Santos’ efforts to participate in the program named for them initially seemed similarly doomed.
In October 2021, prosecutors said, Santos had failed to make the cut for the “Young Guns” initiative. He told his staff to “check in” with the NRCC to see what needed to be done, and heard back an answer: “the only driver that matters is raising $250k.”
“We are going to do this a little bit different,” Santos allegedly replied to the staffers. “I got it.”
Santos faces 10 new charges per the superseding indictment filed on Tuesday, including aggravated identity theft, conspiracy, and false statements. He did not respond to requests for comment from TPM and attempted to ignore reporters who peppered him with questions on Capitol Hill. On Wednesday evening, Santos’ attorney, Joe Murray, declined to weigh in on the case.
“We have no comment,” Murray said in a brief phone call.
Santos burst into the national spotlight after he was elected in November 2022 when the New York Times revealed that he lied about his background during the campaign, including by fabricating a series of Wall Street jobs. While he has admitted to embellishing his resume, since being indicted in May on fraud and money laundering charges related to his efforts to qualify for unemployment benefits while he was working, Santos has denied any wrongdoing and has repeatedly characterized the prosecution as a political attack.
Prosecutors allege Santos went to stunning lengths to win the seat and line his own pockets, including by orchestrating what the indictment describes as a scheme to bilk donors by “repeatedly, without their authorization” charging their credit cards.
TPM first reported on the allegations that Santos ran up unauthorized charges donors’ credit cards in January. In our report, one contributor said that charges first appeared in June 2021.
The indictment – which prosecutors specified only details some instances of unauthorized charges made by Santos – focuses on transactions that occurred as he desperately tried to qualify as a “Young Gun.” Those efforts heated up starting in late 2021.
On Oct. 12, 2021, Santos purportedly texted members of his campaign committee to ask what he needed to do to participate in the program. An unnamed “agent” of his committee replied that he had to bring in $250,000 from donors within a quarter, according to the indictment.
“That should be our focus,” the agent said.
Santos responded with his ominous vow that his fundraising operation would be “different.”
Just shy of three weeks later, Santos’ Harbor City associate Jayson Benoit incorporated a firm that prosecutors described as central to the congressman’s fundraising scheme: Redstone Strategies. Benoit has not responded to multiple requests for comment. Prosecutors allege that Santos would later use Redstone to con donors into giving him tens of thousands of dollars. But before that, the indictment accuses Santos of engaging in a simpler scheme: taking his donors’ credit cards for a ride.
The indictment details a series of wild charges like the ones experienced by the unfortunate and unnamed “Contributor 12” who, prosecutors say, agreed to give Santos billing information for two of their credit cards on Dec. 14, 2021.
The next four days saw Santos allegedly undertake a seemingly frantic series of actions, which prosecutors say violated a range of criminal statutes. On Dec. 17, the indictment said Santos began to charge the two credit cards to contribute a total of $15,800 to his committee.
That same day Santos allegedly spoke with his campaign treasurer, Nancy Marks, a veteran Republican campaign operative. Per the indictment, Santos subsequently texted Marks about a plan they had allegedly hatched: they would use the names of members from both their families to mask more than $50,000 in nonexistent contributions, bringing the campaign fundraising above the $250,000 threshold for the NRCC’s “Young Guns” program.
Marks pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy stemming from the scheme last week. Marks and her attorney, who implied she had been manipulated by Santos, did not respond to requests for comment from TPM.
Prosecutors detailed an instance in which one of his family members was allegedly used to mask some of the $15,800 that was taken from a contributor’s credit card. Prosecutors said Santos deceived his campaign into lying on its FEC reports by marking some of the money as two contributions of $2,400 and $2,600 and attributing both as having come from one of his own relatives.
TPM reviewed Santos’ FEC filings and found that his campaign initially attributed those two contributions to his sister, Tiffany Santos. The finance reports were later amended and his sister’s name was rewritten as Tiffany Devolder. Santos’ sister did not respond to a request for comment.
Santos continued to scramble. On Jan. 31, 2022, as the FEC deadline for the filing that could qualify him for the “Young Guns” program arrived, Santos texted treasurer Nancy Marks that he was “lost and desperate,” according to the indictment. That day, Marks submitted paperwork to the FEC, including documents reflecting $53,200 in false contributions, prosecutors said.
The plan apparently worked for Santos. An NRCC press release from February 25 noted in the indictment lists Santos as having qualified for the “On The Radar” portion of the “Young Guns” program. However, there would be further benchmarks to meet and around this time, prosecutors said, Santos was expressing more worry to his close friends and associates.
“I have my back against the wall this quarter lol,” he wrote to one associate on March 7.
Over the next few weeks, Santos allegedly conjured up a $500,000 loan from himself to his campaign. At the time he was supposedly making the large loan, prosecutors said Santos had “less than $8,000 in his personal and business bank accounts.”
That fabrication came as he faced more deadlines to stay in the “Young Guns” program, which had begun to “invest” in his campaign. At one March 21 meeting, Santos staffers allegedly on his orders gave a “Path to Victory” presentation to the NRCC in which they bragged about the allegedly fake $500,000 loan, and described Santos’ personal and political capital as a “Key Factor” for a “fully-funded operation.”
The non-existent loan allowed his campaign to claim a whopping $800,000 in fundraising that quarter, with his committee bragging in one press release that the money was making his race among the most expensive in the nation. In June, the NRCC said he’d qualified for the third phase of the “Young Guns” program. Santos tweeted an image marking the milestone.
But while he was boasting about his fundraising prowess, Santos was allegedly still running wild with his contributor’s credit cards.
From December through August, prosecutors said, Santos charged more than $44,800 in unauthorized transactions to the two credit cards whose billing information he had received. That allegedly included an August 1, 2022 episode in which Santos allegedly moved $12,000 from one of the cards to Redstone Strategies – the firm his associate incorporated back in November 2021 – and subsequently $11,580 to his own bank account.
Redstone was also a central element of another alleged plot. The indictment laid out a playbook for the scam: Santos instructed a political consultant identified by prosecutors only as “Person #1” to tell potential donors that Redstone was a non-profit, and that it aimed to spend big in support of Santos’ election. Because it was supposedly a non-profit, the donors were told they faced no contribution limits when giving to Redstone. Their money would supposedly go to TV ads for Santos’ campaign.
All of that was a lie, prosecutors said. But in the final weeks before the election, the maneuver allegedly netted Santos thousands of dollars.
Throughout October 2022, the unnamed “Person #1” allegedly reached out to donors at Santos’ direction, purportedly telling them that Redstone had been created “exclusively” for Santos’ campaign. Santos himself allegedly texted another donor, saying that Redstone needed money for TV ads.
Those two donors, prosecutors said, transferred $25,000 each to Redstone Strategies.
By that point, prosecutors portrayed the NRCC as consistently supporting Santos’ campaign.
On Sept. 28, 2022, an NRCC joint fundraising committee sent money to Santos’ campaign and affiliated committees, prosecutors said, while the Santos campaign and NRCC had agreed the day before to “split the cost of a political poll.” And in October 2022, per the indictment, the joint fundraising committee sent more cash to support Santos.
Santos had NRCC support. By that point, he didn’t seem to need the money. So, prosecutors said, he spent it elsewhere, including on himself.
Santos used money overcharged from donors “for his personal benefit, including to make cash withdrawals, personal purchases of luxury designer clothing, credit card payments, a car payment, payments on personal debts and one or more bank transfers to … personal associates,” the indictment said. According to one Santos donor who was interviewed by the FBI, the agents and a forensic accountant inquired about potentially fraudulent purchases made at a luxury retailer in a Long Island mall.
Redstone, which was identified as “Company #1” in the indictment was allegedly like so much else in Santos’ world, an illusion designed to enable grift. Prosecutors phrased it in blunt legalese:
“These contributions to Company#1 were not spent on television advertisements or other independent expenditures.”