United States Representative George Santos has pleaded not guilty to federal charges of fraud, money laundering and theft of public funds in the latest hit to the newly elected Republican, who has resisted calls to resign for lying about his resume.
A 13-count indictment, unsealed on Wednesday, charged Santos, 34, with defrauding prospective political supporters by laundering funds to pay for his personal expenses and illegally receiving unemployment benefits while he was employed.
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He is also accused of making false statements to the House of Representatives about his assets, income and liabilities.
Top House Republicans, who control the chamber by a narrow 222-213 margin, said they would wait for the legal process to play out before taking further action on Santos, who made the plea at the federal courthouse in Central Islip, New York.
“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,” Breon Peace, the 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,” Peace said.
Santos appeared in court on Wednesday and was released on a $500,000 bond. After his court appearance, he told reporters he planned to remain in Congress, despite pressures to resign, and would continue his re-election bid. He also vowed to clear his name.
The legislator is due back in court for his next appearance on June 30. This means he can go back to Washington and cast votes in Congress. As a condition of his release, he agreed to surrender his passport and to limit his travel.
“I’m proud of the way he can stand tall and face the music,” Santos’s lawyer Joe Murray said. “We’re finally going to get to address all his allegations.”
Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy told reporters earlier on Wednesday, “In America, you’re innocent until proven guilty.”
Shortly after Santos’s election in 2022 to represent a wealthy area of New York’s Long Island, the New York Times and other media outlets revealed that he had fabricated many aspects of his personal and professional history.
Among other claims, Santos said he had degrees from New York University and Baruch College despite neither institution’s having any record of his attending. He claimed to have worked at Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, which also was untrue.
He said falsely that he was Jewish and that his grandparents escaped the Nazis during World War II. Santos, who identifies as gay, also failed to disclose that he was married to a woman for several years ending in 2019.
He has since admitted to fabricating large parts of his resume.