The potential big criminality around Rep. George Santos’ loans to his campaign is the most significant single issue coming out of the first-term Republican’s many, many lies. But as more reporters dig into other aspects of his fairly recent past, the picture that’s emerging is of a grifter, plain and simple. In a sense, he’s the dog who caught the car—having lied his way into Congress, everything is now at risk of being uncovered.
Two new stories highlight Santos’ pattern of operating like a con man. His campaign’s pattern of spending exactly $199.99—one cent under the threshold at which it would be required by law to keep receipts and give them to the Federal Election Commission—has gotten a little attention. According to filings, Santos’ campaign spend $199.99 37 times for a total of close to $7,400 on things like Uber rides and airplane and train tickets. Eight times the campaign reported spending that amount at a single Italian restaurant.
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If it seems suspicious to spend one penny under the receipt-preserving threshold 37 times, well, it is. This isn’t some kind of standard campaign tactic. A Politico investigation into such expenditures across campaigns finds that just 25 House or Senate campaigns across the country reported a single $199.99 expenditure.
We can only speculate about whether this money was actually being spent for legitimate campaign purposes (if you’d consider a series of $199.99 meals to be a legitimate campaign purpose to begin with), but it at least raises the question of whether Santos or someone on his campaign was pocketing campaign money in $199.99 increments. Yes, that does sound like a very petty type of theft for someone who lent his campaign $700,000, but there’s reason to believe that Santos never had anything approaching $700,000. And taking a few thousand dollars from your own campaign, or running a campaign in which the staff did that kind of thing, is very much in line with everything else we know about Santos and money.
This is a guy who is wanted in Brazil for check fraud. More recently, he reportedly used his fake animal charity to set up a GoFundMe to pay for surgery for a service dog, then refused to pay for the surgery. He faced multiple evictions in the past decade. And while Santos has not been accused of being a part of its illegal activities, Santos’ job just a couple years ago, right before he set up his own mysteriously funded company, was working for an alleged Ponzi scheme.
And it just so happens that The Washington Post has a story out on what Santos did at that job for Harbor City Capital. Il Bacco, the same Queens Italian restaurant where his campaign went on to spend $199.99 eight times, features as a place Santos brought a potential investor to woo him.
It’s instructive that the potential investor Santos was wining and dining was not the heir to a large fortune, or the owner of a string of car dealerships, or a big law firm partner. It was a man named Christian Lopez, who had recently gotten a $2 million insurance settlement after being seriously injured by a drunk driver.
Santos came on strong. “He was saying if you give me $300,000, I am going to make you money. I’m going to make you $3 million,” Lopez told the Post. When Lopez didn’t bite right away, Santos followed up repeatedly. “Every other day there was a message from him or from his peoples, and I was like, ‘My man, who goes this hard? If you are making large amounts of money, you are not going to hit me up every day,’” Lopez said. When Lopez refused to invest, Santos “got so mad” at Tiffany Bogosian, Lopez’s lawyer and a former classmate of Santos, who had connected the two but came out of the initial dinner with her own questions.
“I was so pissed,” she told the Post. “He did this nice show and dance. Everyone at the restaurant knew it. It felt like this was a routine he did. Like this was not the first time.”
Santos had more success with other investors—or marks. A 60-year-old real estate agent in Minnesota lost $50,000, which he described as “My life savings,” after being pitched on Harbor City by Santos and Harbor City CEO J.P. Maroney. Andrew Intrater, a wealthy investor with close ties to a Russian oligarch, invested and lost $625,000 after Santos wooed him with tales of having invested millions in Harbor City himself and having raised $100 million for the firm. Those were lies, just like the stories Santos told about his relationships with rich and powerful people like Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman and California Public Employees’ Retirement System CEO Marcie Frost.
Story after story focused on different parts of Santos’ life is adding up—despite all the lies—to a coherent picture of a con man. And the Republican Party welcomed him as he conned his way into Congress, and Republican leaders continue to stand by Santos because they value the House vote he can offer them more than they value integrity or truth.
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