Republican US congressman George Santos has been arrested in New York on charges of fraud, money laundering, theft of public funds and making false statements to the House of Representatives, authorities said.
The 34-year-old will appear in a court on New York’s Long Island on Wednesday afternoon to be arraigned on charges in a 13-count indictment. He is accused of misappropriating tens of thousands of dollars in political donations and lying about his true income once elected.
Santos was elected in last November’s midterm congressional elections. His victory flipped a Long Island district previously held by a Democrat, helping Republicans to regain control of the House. But he has since faced a series of scandals after he was found to have lied about his education, employment history, ethnicity and family background.
Breon Peace, US attorney for the eastern district of New York, said in a statement: “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.”
The indictment is a blow to House Republicans who have become increasingly embarrassed by Santos’s presence within their ranks but cannot afford to lose him given their slim majority in the lower chamber of Congress.
Several Republicans from the moderate New York suburbs have already called for him to step down. “The sooner he leaves, the sooner we can win the seat with someone who isn’t a liar,” Nicole Malliotakis, a New York Republican lawmaker, told Axios this week.
Kevin McCarthy, the House Speaker, has not gone that far and may only do so if Santos is convicted. Santos stepped down earlier this year from the congressional committees he was assigned to because of the pressure on him.
“The party of George Santos and Marjorie Taylor Greene cannot be trusted to govern. Not now. Not ever,” Hakeem Jeffries, the Democratic leader in the House, said in a tweet, lumping in the indicted New York congressman with the pro-Trump firebrand Georgia lawmaker known for embracing conspiracy theories.
In the 20-page indictment unsealed on Wednesday, federal prosecutors alleged Santos used $50,000 in campaign donations from two people, who were told the money would be partly used for campaign advertisements, to buy designer clothing and pay his personal debts as well as funnel funds to his associates.
They also alleged that Santos repeatedly filed for unemployment insurance during the Covid-19 pandemic, receiving a total of more than $24,000 despite making $120,000 a year as an employee of a Florida investment fund.
Once elected, Santos vastly overstated his income and his assets to the House, the indictment alleged, making him out to be a multimillionaire.
If found guilty on all charges, Santos could spend the rest of his life in prison. A lawyer for Santos did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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