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Rep. George Santos arrested on federal charges in New York

The young self-proclaimed Afro-Latino Catholic congressman had been under investigation since late December.

U.S. Rep. George Santos is escorted by police as he leaves Central Islip Federal Courthouse in New York on Wednesday. (Reuters/Eduardo Munoz)

WASHINGTON — Following months of speculation and at least four separate investigations opened since December, Republican U.S. Rep. George Santos of New York was arrested this week after being charged with federal crimes in his home state. He turned himself in on Wednesday morning.

The 34-year-old freshman congressman, who waged a successful campaign for his seat in November, has pled not guilty concerning the 13-count grand jury indictment—which includes seven counts of wire fraud, three counts of money laundering, one count of theft of public funds, and two counts of making materially false statements to the House of Representatives.

“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,” said Breon Peace, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, in a statement released by the Department of Justice.

Santos has faced heavy, bipartisan scrutiny since late December, when the New York Times reported on discrepancies in his property holdings and net worth, as well as various false statements he made about his background during his campaign. The story had first been reported in the North Shore Leader earlier that fall, before Santos triumphed over his Democratic opponent Rob Zimmerman in New York’s 3rd congressional district.

The 34-year-old millennial upstart—a self-proclaimed Afro-Latino Catholic who is openly identified with the LGBTQ+ community but ran on a hard-right platform—previously campaigned unsuccessfully for the same seat in 2020.

Following the revelation of his improprieties, federal prosecutors for the Eastern District of New York announced an investigation in December, following a separate probe initiated by New York Attorney General Letitia James. The Nassau County district attorney announced its own investigation the next month.

Concerning this week’s resulting federal charges, Santos appeared to learn of them from a journalist, Farnoush Amiri of the Associated Press, on Tuesday while he was in Washington for congressional meetings.

Following his Wednesday appearance in a federal courthouse in Long Island, Santos was released on $500,000 bond. He then appeared to use social media to call the indictment a “witch hunt” and called for donations to his 2024 campaign, which he said he plans to continue.

Santos could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted on all charges.

“The fight is real & I’m OVER the target, I need your support to keep me fighting for freedom,” he wrote Wednesday afternoon on his personal Twitter account.

Santos is due back in federal court on June 30, where prosecutors could announce new charges, but in the meantime is not restricted from continuing to serve in Congress.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, Santos’ fellow Republican, told reporters on Tuesday that he will not move to unseat Santos while he fights the case. This echoes McCarthy’s earlier commitment to a hands-off approach on the upstart congressman, despite a bipartisan House Ethics investigation initiated against Santos in early March.

Santos himself voluntarily resigned his committee assignments in late January, while maintaining that he merely fabricated minor elements of his resume and denying that he is a “criminal.”

Several of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle have maintained that he should resign from Congress entirely, given the nature of the claims against him. These include fellow New York representatives Adriano Espaillat and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who are Democrats, and Santos’ neighboring Republican congressman Anthony D’Esposito, among others.

“They defend Trump, deflect values, and defy ethics… MAGA Republican extremists will NEVER speak for the American people,” Espaillat wrote on Twitter Wednesday morning.

Kenneth Polite Jr., Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, said in the DOJ statement that Santos’ dealings amount to “fraud and corruption” meant to “deceive and defraud” American citizens,

“As this indictment reflects, the Department of Justice will hold accountable anyone who engages in such criminality.”

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger and a seminarian with the Josephites.

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