The George Santos story just keeps getting worse.
My first reaction to the initial New York Times story outing newly-elected New York congressman George Santos as a serial fabulist was surprise, then sadness because I knew his election was in large part made possible by the death of local news. If there’d been competent local media still operating in the area, Santos’ campaign would have ended as suddenly as it started in a flurry of revelatory news coverage, and Santos himself would have been a footnote, a political oddity and embarrassment to the local GOP.
Then for one glorious moment I thought maybe Santos was a performance artist, that we’d find out George Santos is the alias of some comedian or media provocateur whose congressional run was designed from the start to show that politics has become so polarized, so divorced from issues and hitched to ideological loyalties that even a widely disliked grifter — with no roots in the community and a completely fabricated resume — could win simply because he said the right things, pushed the right buttons and kissed the right behinds.
And it just kept getting worse. There were the stories about pending criminal charges for using stolen checks in Santos’ native (?) Brazil, former roommates who saw Santos on TV wearing expensive clothes he’d allegedly stolen from them, and Santos working as the director of a company under investigation for running an alleged Ponzi scheme.
The latest story might be the most infuriating: Santos is accused of stealing $3,000 from a homeless, PTSD-suffering veteran whose beloved service dog needed life-saving surgery.
Rich Osthoff, who was living on the streets at the time, needed money to pay for veterinary surgery to remove a large and life-threatening tumor from his service dog, Sapphire. Osthoff says Sapphire was his lifeline during difficult times and he was desperate to get her the surgery she needed.
In 2016 a well-meaning vet tech and another veteran connected Osthoff with Santos, who claimed he ran a charity called Friends of Pets United and could help. At the time, Santos was going by the name Anthony Devolder.
Santos set up a GoFundMe drive for Osthoff and Sapphire, raised $3,000 with a tear-jerker of a plea, then basically ghosted Osthoff and his veteran friend Michael Boll, founder of New Jersey Veterans Network. After fobbing them off with a series of excuses, he stopped responding to their calls and vanished with the proceeds.
“It diminished my faith in humanity,” Osthoff said of the experience.
Santos denied the accusation.
“Fake,” Santos texted news startup Semafor on Wednesday. “No clue who this is.”
But dozens of other people besides Osthoff, Boll and the vet tech were involved and confirmed Santos’ role in the fundraiser, there are publicly visible tweets from 2016 linking to it — and crediting “Anthony Devolder” for running it — and GoFundMe acknowledged the existence of the drive.
In addition, news reports have confirmed Friends of Pets United, Santos’ “charity,” was never registered as a non-profit. Santos also defrauded an animal rescue group in New Jersey when he pocketed the proceeds from a 2017 fundraiser he ran on behalf of the organization, according to dozens of media reports. Santos was terse in his response to the accusations from Osthoff and Boll, but he was eager to talk about his non-existent pet charity during his campaign, when he claimed Friends of Pets United “saved” more than 2,500 cats and dogs over a four-year span and trapped and neutered more than 3,000 cats.
Santos’ lies are so numerous and so outrageous it’s difficult to keep track of them, and it’s doubtful he remembers all of them.
He claimed his mother worked at a financial firm at the World Trade Center and died in the 9/11 attacks, but Fatima Devolder left the US for Brazil in 1999 and never returned. She also never worked in finance. He claimed four of his employees died in the 2016 Pulse Nightclub shooting that claimed 49 lives. Santos never had any employees, his company didn’t exist, and he didn’t know anyone who died at the nightclub. He claimed ownership over an impressive and burgeoning real estate empire, but never owned any properties and owes more than $40,000 in back rent on a Queens apartment he shared with his sister for years. (His sister was also the recipient of a $30,000 FEMA handout and contributed a hefty $5,000 to his campaign, but still owes tens of thousands in back rent on the apartment, reports say.)
There are too many lies to list here, too much insanity to digest in one sitting, and it’s probably not good for the blood pressure to dwell on this weasel of a man allowing a homeless veteran’s service dog to die while pocketing the money raised for her surgery.
But we’re not done yet. We still don’t know how Santos bolstered his campaign with $750,000 of his own money, or where that cash came from. It’s not even clear if Santos is his real name, or if he’s actually a U.S. citizen, with some reports — like a New York Times story from last week — suggesting he may have married his former wife for citizenship.
While New York Republicans have been among the loudest voices to condemn Santos and demand he resign or be removed from congress, national party leaders haven’t made any moves to get rid of him — and have actually given him committee assignments — because they believe they need his vote in a slimmer-than-anticipated congressional majority.
As the lies keep piling up, the biggest question is: How long will this farce be allowed to drag on?