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New York

US congressman George Santos pleads not guilty to fraud and theft charges

The 34-year-old was released from custody on a $500,000 (€455,000) bond.

LAST UPDATE | 10 May 2023

US CONGRESSMAN GEORGE Santos has pleaded not guilty to charges alleging a financial fraud at the heart of a political campaign built on dubious boasts about his personal wealth and business success.

Santos – the New York Republican whose biography began to unravel after his election last autumn – is accused of duping donors, stealing campaign funds, lying to Congress and cheating to collect unemployment benefits he did not deserve.

The 34-year-old was released from custody on a $500,000 (€455,000) bond following his arraignment at a Long Island federal courthouse, about five hours after he surrendered to authorities.

Santos said outside court: “This is the beginning to address and defend myself.” He vowed to clear his name and called his prosecution a “witch hunt”.

He previously defied calls to resign as details of his fictitious resume came to light.

In the past, members of Congress in both parties have remained in office while facing charges.

He could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Santos said little during his arraignment, which lasted about 15 minutes. His lawyer said he plans to continue his recently announced reelection campaign, defying calls to resign.

He asked the judge for permission for Santos to travel freely, though he did surrender his passport.

Santos’s lawyer, Joseph Murray, said the congressman was in good spirits, telling reporters: “We finally get to address all of these allegations.”

Among the allegations, prosecutors say Santos induced supporters to donate to a company under the false pretense that the money would be used to support his campaign.

embedded9638652d44764340ab1426dba6c19ac1 George Santos was elected to Congress last autumn after a campaign built partly on falsehoods J Scott Applewhite / AP J Scott Applewhite / AP / AP

Instead, they say, he used the money for personal expenses, including designer clothes and his credit card and car payments.

He also is accused of lying about his finances on congressional disclosure forms and applying for and receiving unemployment benefits while he was employed as regional director of an investment firm that the government shut down in 2021 over allegations that it was a Ponzi scheme.

The indictment “seeks to hold Santos accountable for various alleged fraudulent schemes and brazen misrepresentations,” US Attorney Breon Peace said.

“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.”

Santos has defied calls to resign — some from fellow Republicans — as details of his fictitious resume came to light, though he did decline his committee assignments.

Santos was elected to Congress last autumn after a campaign built partly on falsehoods.

He told people he was a wealthy Wall Street dealmaker with a substantial real estate portfolio who had been a star volleyball player in college, among other things.

In reality, Santos did not work at the big financial firms he claimed had employed him, did not go to college and struggled financially before his run for public office.

He claimed he fuelled his run largely with self-made riches, earned from brokering deals on expensive toys for wealthy clients, but the indictment alleges those boasts were also exaggerated.

In regulatory filings, Santos claimed he loaned his campaign and related political action committees more than 750,000 US dollars (€682,000), but it was unclear how he would have come into that kind of wealth so quickly after years in which he struggled to pay his rent and faced multiple eviction proceedings.

Press Association