U.S. Rep. George Santos (R-Nassau/Queens) politely pleaded not guilty to a 13-count indictment inside a packed Central Islip federal courthouse Wednesday before declaring outside that he is still seeking re-election.
The congressman’s arrest was of little surprise since his alleged financial improprieties have sparked investigations from federal, New York State and Nassau County authorities, but Santos appeared ruffled nonetheless after being charged with wire fraud, money laundering, theft of public funds and lying to Congress. He told the judge “yes, ma’am” when she peppered him with questions, then stepped outside and called the case a “witch hunt,” echoing the phrase frequently used by former President Donald Trump, who Santos has modeled himself after.
“I’m gonna fight the witch hunt, I’m gonna take care of clearing my name, and I look forward to doing that,” he told reporters. “I have plenty of evidence that I will now be sharing with the government in this case to make sure I defend myself.”
Santos made international headlines for admittedly lying about his life story almost immediately after a surge of Republican voters swept him to victory over Democrat Robert Zimmerman in a race for New York’s 3rd Congressional District. He admitted lying about being a Jewish college graduate who worked on Wall Street, but has dodged questions about his campaign finances that drew authorities’ attention. Other lies, like his false claims that he appeared on the Disney series Hannah Montana, remain a mystery.
Experts say he may be the biggest liar ever elected to Congress. He initially tried ducking the press when he first arrived in Congress, but increasingly grew more confrontational. After his arrest, however, he acknowledged that facing a potential federal prison sentence has proven stressful.
Federal prosecutors alleged that Santos fraudulently collected unemployment while he was in fact employed, lied to Congress about being a millionaire, and stole his campaign funds.
“The allegations in the indictment charge Santos with relying on repeated dishonesty and deception to ascend to the halls of Congress and enrich himself,” said Breon Peace, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.
The congressman’s indictment sparked renewed calls that he either resign or that the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives vote to expel him from office, neither of which appear likely anytime soon.
“I’m gonna keep fighting for what I believe in,” he told reporters. “I’m gonna keep fighting to represent my district, I’m gonna keep fighting to deliver results and now I have to fight to defend my innocence, and I’m gonna do that.”
Santos was released on $500,000 bond. He is due back in court June 30 before U.S. District Judge Joanna Seybert.
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