NEW YORK (WPIX) — U.S. Rep. George Santos pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges accusing him of duping donors, stealing from his campaign, and lying to Congress about being a millionaire, all while cheating to collect unemployment benefits he didn’t deserve.
Santos, 34, was released on $500,000 bond following his arraignment, about five hours after turning himself in to authorities on Long Island to face the charges. He could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
Broadly speaking, there are three allegations resulting in 13 charges against Santos, a freshman Republican member of Congress who’s been accused of lying about many aspects of his life.
1. Defrauding supporters
The first allegation is essentially that Santos defrauded supporters while running for office in the fall of 2022. Federal prosecutors said he did this by inducing them to contribute funds to a company he controlled and claimed the funds would be used for his campaign. Instead, the feds allege the money was used for designer clothing, credit card payments, a car payment and other personal debts.
Santos allegedly instructed the person running his company to lie to supporters, directing that person to tell supporters the company was a nonprofit or super PAC, when it was neither of those things. Federal authorities alleged Santos did this to get around campaign contribution limits. Two supporters sent the company $25,000 each, according to the indictment, when pressed to help pay for TV campaign ads.
Eight charges: five counts of wire fraud and three counts of unlawful money transactions.
2. Unemployment benefit fraud
The second allegation is that Santos applied for enhanced COVID-19 unemployment payments in June 2020 by claiming he had been without a job since March 2020. Federal authorities said Santos recertified that he was unemployed until mid-April 2021. The feds said in reality, Santos was working for an investment firm from February 2020 to April 2021. Benefits received during that time totaled almost $25,000.
Three charges: one count of theft of public money and two counts of wire fraud.
3. Lying to Congress and voters
The third allegation is that Santos misstated his earnings in required U.S. House of Representatives disclosure forms while running for office in both 2020 and 2022.
Two charges: one count of false statements related to each the 2020 form and the 2022 form.
Despite the indictment, Santos told reporters Wednesday that he will not resign.
“I believe I’m innocent,” he said. “I’m gonna fight my battle, I’m gonna deliver, I’m gonna fight the witch hunt, I’m gonna take care of clearing my name and I look forward to doing that.”
The charges against him don’t disqualify him from serving in Congress. According to House rules, members charged with criminal conduct as a felony that carries a sentence of two or more years in prison should resign from committees and step aside from party leadership as the legal process plays out. Santos stepped down from his committee assignments in January amid his mounting controversy, and he does not serve in House GOP leadership.
The Hill’s Mychael Schnell and The Associated Press contributed to this report.