Embattled Republican New York congressman George Santos was charged with criminal theft in Pennsylvania in 2017 in connection with bad cheques apparently used to buy puppies from dog breeders, according to a lawyer who said she helped him with the case.
he case was ultimately dismissed after Santos said the nine checks, totalling more than $15,000, were from a chequebook that had been stolen from him, according to information provided by the attorney, Tiffany Bogosian.
The theft case, first reported by Politico, adds to the controversy surrounding the first-term Long Island congressman, who faces multiple investigations and has acknowledged lying about elements of his life story.
The charges date to a time when Santos claimed to be leading a group, Friends of Pets United, that benefited sick, abandoned or neglected animals.
Some people familiar with the group have questioned what became of the money it raised. FBI agents recently visited a New Jersey man who complained that Santos had raised $3,000 for his terminally ill dog, but never delivered the cash or helped the sick animal.
It’s not the first time Santos has been linked to a criminal investigation involving cheques . Court records in Brazil, first reported by The New York Times, show Santos was the subject of a criminal charge there for using two stolen checks in 2008, when he would have been 19, to buy about $1,350 worth of items at a clothing shop in the city of Niteroi.
The Times quoted local prosecutors as saying the case was dormant because Santos had never appeared in court. Santos has denied being sought by authorities in South America.
Bogosian said she began helping Santos with the Pennsylvania theft case in 2020, after he told her he had been served with an extradition warrant. She gave the AP email correspondence she had with a Pennsylvania state trooper in February 2020.
In the email to the trooper, she wrote that Santos told her one of four chequebooks he received from his bank disappeared in 2017 and he immediately called the bank, had the checks cancelled and put stop pay orders on all the checks. He later closed the account.
In the email, Bogosian said Santos was not aware of the cheques written to the dog breeders until after he was charged. Defending her friend, she also wrote that the signatures on the cheques differed from each other and from Santos’ own signature.
“A review of the below and attached will make clear my client is not only the victim of fraud but so are the additional payees listed below and whom received the attached checks,” Bogosian wrote in the email.
Santos, she wrote, suspected that his roommate at the end of 2017, “a person only known as ‘Sydney Lima,'” had access to the checks and was perhaps responsible.
The charges were later expunged, but it is not clear exactly why.
The memo lines on some of the bad checks written to the dog breeders said they had been used to buy “puppies.”
Shortly after the cheques were written, Friends of Pets United held a puppy adoption event at a pet store in New York City, at which people paid hundreds of dollars for the animals.
The New York Times reported on Monday that after that adoption event, in November 2017, Santos asked the pet store owner to write a check from the proceeds to Anthony Devolder, the name Santos was going by at the time.
The owner rejected the request and instead made the cheque payable to Friends of Pets United. The owner, Daniel Avissato, told the Times he later discovered in his bank records that someone had blotted out Friends of Pets United on the check’s recipient line and replaced it with Anthony Devolder.
Santos has refused to answer questions about Friends of Pets United, but said in a tweet responding to some of the fundraising allegations that “my work in animal advocacy was the labor of love & hard work.”
He said he had rescued many dogs over the years.
Separately, Santos has appeared to admit fabricating business experience on his resume to create a persona that would be more attractive to voters in a bizarre, rambling interview with right-wing Newsmax host Greg Kelly.
During a Thursday appearance on Kelly’s eponymous prime-time show, Mr Santos responded to a prompt about his motivation for claiming to have been employed by Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, though he claimed that he “never lied” because he supposedly worked for contractors engaged by both firms.
“I want to set the record clear on my work experience. I never lied. I never worked for Goldman Sachs or Citigroup directly, but I did work through direct contracts for those firms in the management of limited partners and general partners relationships,” he said.
It’s unclear what “direct contracts” he was referring to in his interview with Kelly, and Mr Santos did not elaborate further.
He did, however, claim to have set the record straight on what he described as his “mistakes,” and suggested voters should let bygones be bygones and allow him to continue serving with a clean slate.
“I’m human. I’ve made mistakes. I’ve made peace with those mistakes, and I’ve come clean on those mistakes,” he said, adding that he “thought we were the country of repent, ask for forgiveness, and move forward”.
Mr Santos also pushed back on descriptions of him as lonely or ignored during his first days in the House based on photographs of him sitting alone in the body’s chamber during the marathon process of electing a Speaker of the House, and at one point described himself as “simple-minded” while attacking Utah Senator Mitt Romney and praising Arizona Senator Krysten Sinema for how they spoke to him when senators attended the State of the Union on Tuesday.
He said his service in the House was about “having somebody like me come and represent other people who are just like me — simple-minded folks who come from absolutely nothing and have a voice in Congress,” and contrasted that with Mr Romney’s statement that the New York Republican “doesn’t belong” there.
Continuing, Mr Santos described his exchanges with both senators and said Ms Sinema told him to “hang in there” when she encountered him in the House earlier this week.
By contrast, he said Mr Romney is someone “who thinks he’s above it all and is [on] a whole mighty white horse trying to talk to us down on morality”.
He said the Utah Republican, who was the GOP’s presidential nominee during the 2012 election, is a racist, describing him as “prejudiced against minorities,” while offering no evidence to support his claim.