George Santos, whose election to Congress on Long Island in New York last month helped Republicans clinch a narrow majority in the House of Representatives, built his candidacy on the notion that he was the “full embodiment of the American dream” and was running to safeguard it for others.
His campaign biography amplified his storybook journey: He is the son of Brazilian immigrants, and the first openly gay Republican to win a House seat as a non-incumbent. By his account, he catapulted himself from a New York City public college to become a “seasoned Wall Street financier and investor” with a family-owned real estate portfolio of 13 properties and an animal rescue charity that saved more than 2,500 dogs and cats.
But a New York Times review of public documents and court filings from the United States and Brazil, as well as various attempts to verify claims that Santos, 34, made on the campaign trail, calls into question key parts of the resume that he sold to voters.
Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, the marquee Wall Street firms on Santos’ campaign biography, told The New York Times they had no record of his ever working there. Officials at Baruch College, which Santos has said he graduated from in 2010, could find no record of anyone matching his name and date of birth graduating that year.
There was also little evidence that his animal rescue group, Friends of Pets United, was, as Santos claimed, a tax-exempt organization: The Internal Revenue Service could locate no record of a registered charity with that name.
His financial disclosure forms suggest a life of some wealth. He lent his campaign more than $700,000 during the midterm election, has donated thousands of dollars to other candidates in the last two years and reported a $750,000 salary and more than $1 million in dividends from his company, the Devolder Organization.
Yet the firm, which has no public website or LinkedIn page, is something of a mystery. On a campaign website, Santos once described Devolder as his “family’s firm” that managed $80 million in assets. On his congressional financial disclosure, he described it as a capital introduction consulting company, a type of boutique firm that serves as a liaison between investment funds and deep-pocketed investors. But Santos’ disclosures did not reveal any clients, an omission three election law experts said could be problematic if such clients exist.
And while Santos has described a family fortune in real estate, he has not disclosed, nor could the Times find, records of his properties.
Santos’ 8-point victory, in a district in northern Long Island and northeast Queens that previously favored Democrats, was considered a mild upset. He had lost decisively in the same district in 2020 to Tom Suozzi, then the Democratic incumbent, and had seemed to be too wedded to former President Donald Trump and his stances to flip his fortunes.
His appearance earlier this month at a gala in Manhattan attended by white nationalists and right-wing conspiracy theorists underscored his ties to Trump’s right-wing base.
At the same time, new revelations uncovered by the Times — including the omission of key information on Santos’ personal financial disclosures, and criminal charges for check fraud in Brazil — have the potential to create ethical and possibly legal challenges once he takes office.
Santos did not respond to repeated requests from the Times that he furnish either documents or a resume with dates that would help to substantiate the claims he made on the campaign trail. He also declined to be interviewed, and neither his lawyer nor Big Dog Strategies, a Republican-oriented political consulting group that handles crisis management, responded to a detailed list of questions.
The lawyer, Joe Murray, said in a short statement that it was “no surprise that Congressman-elect Santos has enemies at The New York Times who are attempting to smear his good name with these defamatory allegations.”
A Criminal Case in Brazil
Santos has said he was born in Queens to parents who emigrated from Brazil and was raised in the borough. His father, he has said, is Catholic and has roots in Angola. His mother, Fatima Devolder, was descended from migrants who fled Jewish persecution in Ukraine and World War II strife in Belgium. Santos has described himself as a nonobservant Jew but has also said he is Catholic.
Records show that Santos’ mother, who died in 2016, lived for a time in the Brazilian city of Niterói, a Rio suburb where she was employed as a nurse. After Santos obtained a high school equivalency diploma, he apparently also spent some time there.
In 2008, when Santos was 19, he stole the checkbook of a man his mother was caring for, according to Brazilian court records uncovered by the Times. Police and court records show that Santos used the checkbook to make fraudulent purchases, including a pair of shoes. Two years later, Santos confessed to the crime and was later charged.
The court and local prosecutor in Brazil confirmed the case remains unresolved. Santos did not respond to an official summons, and a court representative could not find him at his given address, records show.
That period in Brazil overlapped with when Santos said he was attending Baruch College, where he has said he was awarded a bachelor’s degree in economics and finance. But Baruch College said it was unable to find records of Santos — using multiple variations of his first, middle and last names — having graduated in 2010, as he has claimed.
A biography of Santos on the website of the National Republican Congressional Committee, which is the House Republicans’ campaign arm, also includes a stint at New York University. The claim is not repeated elsewhere, and an NYU spokesperson found no attendance records matching his name and birth date.
After he said he graduated from college, Santos began working at Citigroup, eventually becoming “an associate asset manager” in the company’s real estate division, according to a version of his biography that was on his campaign site as recently as April.
A spokesperson for Citigroup, Danielle Romero-Apsilos, said the company could not confirm Santos’ employment. She also said she was unfamiliar with Santos’ self-described job title and noted that Citi had sold off its asset management operations in 2005.
A previous campaign biography of Santos indicates that he left Citi to work at a Turkey-based hospitality technology company, MetGlobal, and other profiles mention a brief role at Goldman Sachs. MetGlobal executives could not be reached for comment. Abbey Collins, a spokesperson at Goldman Sachs, said she could not locate any record of Santos’ having worked at the company.
Attempts to find co-workers who could confirm his employment were unsuccessful, in part because Santos has not provided specific dates for his time at these companies.
He has also asserted that his professional life had intersected with tragedy: He said in an interview on WNYC that his company, which he did not identify, “lost four employees” at the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando in June 2016. But a Times review of news coverage and obituaries found that none of the 49 victims appear to have worked at the various firms named in his biography.
Reversal of Fortunes
As he was purportedly climbing the corporate ranks, Santos claimed to have founded Friends of Pets United, which he ran for five years beginning in 2013. As a candidate, he cited the group as proof of a history of philanthropic work.
Although remnants of the group and its efforts could be found on Facebook, the IRS was not able to find any record showing that the group held the tax-exempt status that Santos claimed. Neither the New York nor New Jersey attorney general’s offices could find records of Friends of Pets United having been registered as a charity.
Friends of Pets United held at least one fundraiser with a New Jersey animal rescue group in 2017; the invitation promised drinks, donated raffle items and a live band. Santos charged $50 for entry, according to an online fundraising page that promoted the event. But the event’s beneficiary, who asked for anonymity for fear of retribution, said she never received any of the funds, with Santos only offering repeated excuses for not forwarding the money.
During that same period, Santos was also facing apparent financial difficulties. In November 2015, a landlord in the Whitestone neighborhood of Queens filed an eviction suit in housing court accusing Santos of owing $2,250 in unpaid rent.
The landlord, Maria Tulumba, said in an interview that Santos had been a “nice guy” and a “respectful” tenant. But she said he had financial problems that led to the eviction case, declining to elaborate further. The judge ruled in favor of Tulumba.
In May 2017, Santos faced another eviction case, from a rent-stabilized apartment in the Sunnyside neighborhood of Queens. Santos’ landlord accused him of owing more than $10,000 in rent stretching over five months and said in court records that one of his tenant’s checks had bounced. A warrant of eviction was issued, and Santos was fined $12,208 in a civil judgment.
By early 2021, Santos was becoming vocal on housing issues but not from a tenant perspective. During New York’s pandemic-era eviction moratorium, Santos said on Twitter that he was a landlord affected by the freeze.
“Will we landlords ever be able to take back possession of our property?” he wrote.
Santos said he and his family had not been paid rent on their 13 properties in nearly a year, adding that he had offered rental assistance to some tenants, but found that some were “flat out taking advantage of the situation.”
But Santos has not listed properties in New York on required financial disclosure forms for either of his campaigns; the only real estate that he mentioned was an apartment in Rio de Janeiro. Property records databases in New York City and Nassau County did not show any documents or deeds associated with him, immediate family members or the Devolder Organization.
It is unclear what might have led to Santos’ apparent reversal in fortunes. By the time he launched his first run for the House, in November 2019, Santos was working in business development at a company called LinkBridge Investors that says it connects investors with fund managers.
Santos eventually became a vice president there, according to a company document and a May 2020 campaign disclosure form where he declared earnings of $55,000 in salary, commission and bonuses.
Over the next two years, Santos bounced between several ill-fated ventures. As he ran for Congress, he moved from LinkBridge to take on a new role as regional director of Harbor City Capital, a Florida-based investment company.
Harbor City, which attracted investors with YouTube videos and guarantees of double-digit returns, soon garnered attention from the Securities and Exchange Commission, which filed a lawsuit accusing the company and its founder of running a $17 million Ponzi scheme. Neither Santos nor other colleagues were named in the lawsuit, and Santos has publicly denied having any knowledge of the scheme.
Two weeks later, a handful of former Harbor City executives formed a political consulting group called Red Strategies USA, as reported by The Daily Beast. Corporate filings listed the Devolder Organization as a partial owner — even though the papers to register Devolder would not be filed for another week.
Red Strategies was short-lived: Federal campaign records show it did political consulting work for at least one politician — Tina Forte, a Republican who unsuccessfully challenged Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in November — before it was dissolved in September for failing to file an annual report.
The Devolder Organization seems to have flourished as Santos ran for office. According to Santos’ disclosures, his work there earned him a salary of $750,000. By the time it too was dissolved — also for failing to file an annual report — Santos reported that it was worth more than $1 million.
Win Raises New Questions
Santos announced his intent to make a second run at Congress almost immediately after the end of his first. He figured to again be an underdog in the district, which largely favored President Joe Biden in 2020.
But things began to swing in his favor. Republicans in Nassau County performed well in local elections in 2021. Suozzi opted to not run for reelection in 2022, instead launching an unsuccessful bid for governor. And with high turnout expected in a midterm election that also featured a governor’s race, Santos’ race became more competitive — and his campaign stance became more tempered.
During his first campaign, Santos, an adherent of Trump, opposed mask mandates and abortion access, and defended law enforcement against what he called the “made-up concept” of police brutality.
But during his second campaign, older posts on Twitter were suddenly deleted, including his claims of election fraud that he said cost Trump the election in 2020. In March 2021, he resurfaced the claim, writing on Twitter in a since-deleted post, “My new campaign team has 4 former loyal Trump staffers that pushed him over the finish line TWICE, yes I said TWICE!”
Santos also briefly claimed without evidence in another since-deleted tweet that he had been a victim of fraud in his first congressional race, at one point using the hashtag #StopTheSteal, a reference to a slogan associated with Trump’s false election claims.
And while he previously boasted that he attended the Jan. 6 rally (but, he has said, not the riot) in support of Trump in Washington, he has since ducked questions about his attendance and a prior claim that he had written “a nice check for a law firm” to assist some rioters with their legal bills.
Santos’ improved circumstances are evident on the official financial disclosure form he filed in September with the House of Representatives, although the document still leaves questions about his finances.
In the disclosure, Santos said he was the Devolder Organization’s sole owner and managing member. He reported that the company, which is based in New York but was registered in Florida, paid him a $750,000 salary. He also earned dividends from Devolder totaling somewhere between $1 million and $5 million — even though Devolder’s estimated value was listed in the same range.
The Devolder Organization has no public-facing assets or other property that the Times could find. Santos’ disclosure form did not provide information about clients that would have contributed to such a haul — a seeming violation of the requirement to disclose any compensation in excess of $5,000 from a single source.
Kedric Payne, the vice president of the watchdog Campaign Legal Center, and a former deputy chief counsel for the Office of Congressional Ethics, was one of three election law experts consulted by the Times who took issue with the lack of detail.
“This report raises red flags because no clients are reported for a multimillion-dollar client services company,” Payne said, adding: “The congressman-elect should explain what’s going on.”
The Times attempted to interview Santos at the address where he is registered to vote and that was associated with a campaign donation he made in October, but a person at that address said Sunday that she was not familiar with him.
Material omissions or misrepresentations on personal financial disclosures are considered a federal crime under the False Statements Act, which carries a maximum penalty of $250,000 and five years in prison. But the bar for these cases is high, given that the statute requires violations to be “knowing and willful.”
The House of Representatives has several internal mechanisms for investigating ethics violations, and issuing civil or administrative penalties when it does. Those bodies tend to act largely in egregious cases, particularly if the behavior took place before the member was inaugurated.
Campaign disclosures show that Santos lived large as a candidate, buying shirts for his staff from Brooks Brothers and charging the campaign for meals at the restaurant inside Bergdorf Goodman.
Santos also spent a considerable amount of money traveling — charging his campaign roughly $40,000 in flights to places that included California, Texas and Florida. All told, Santos spent more than $17,000 in Florida, mostly on restaurants and hotels, including at least one evening at the Breakers, a five-star hotel and resort in Palm Beach, 3 miles up the road from Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s private club and residence.
Key Findings From the Review
A New York Times review of public documents and court filings from the United States and Brazil, as well as attempts to verify claims that George Santos made on the campaign trail, calls into question key parts of the resume that he sold to voters before winning a seat in the House of Representatives. Here are some of the findings.
A Criminal History: When Santos was 19, he stole the checkbook of a man his mother was caring for, according to Brazilian court records. Two years later, Santos confessed to the crime and was charged. The case remains unresolved.
Eviction Cases: In November 2015, a landlord in Queens filed an eviction suit in housing court accusing Santos of owing $2,250 in unpaid rent. The judge ruled in the landlord’s favor. In May 2017, another landlord in Queens accused Santos of owing more than $10,000 in rent. A warrant of eviction was issued, and Santos was fined $12,208.
Employment History: According to a version of Santos’ biography on his campaign website, he was an “associate asset manager” at Citigroup. A spokesperson for Citigroup said the company could not confirm Santos’ employment. The spokesperson also said she was unfamiliar with Santos’ self-described job title.
Ill-Fated Ventures: In the last two years, Santos reported a $750,000 salary and more than $1 million in dividends from his company, the Devolder Organization, which was dissolved for failing to file an annual report. As he ran for Congress, he moved to Harbor City Capital, a Florida-based investment company. The Securities and Exchange Commission filed a lawsuit accusing Harbor City and its founder of running a $17 million Ponzi scheme. Two weeks later, some former Harbor City executives formed Red Strategies USA, a short-lived political consulting group that was also dissolved for failing to file an annual report.
Campaign Disclosures: Santos lived large as a candidate, buying clothes for his staff from Brooks Brothers and charging the campaign for meals at the restaurant inside Bergdorf Goodman. He also charged $40,000 worth of flights. He spent more than $17,000 in Florida, mostly on restaurants and hotels, including one resort 3 miles from Mar-a-Lago, Donald Trump’s private club and residence.
Source: The New York Times Company