George Santos: US Congressman pleads not guilty to federal criminal charges

Republican has been accused of crimes including wire fraud, theft of public funds and making false statements

US Representative George Santos is accused of 'relying on repeated dishonesty and deception'. Reuters
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George Santos, the Republican US congressman whose first term has been marred by scandals over a series of lies, pled not guilty to more than a dozen federal criminal charges in New York on Wednesday.

Mr Santos was arraigned on 13 charges including wire fraud, money laundering, theft of public funds and making false statements to the House of Representatives.

He was released on a $500,000 bond after spending about five hours in custody. He had surrendered to authorities in Long Island earlier in the day.

“Taken together, 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, US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.

The attorney's office has also accused Mr Santos of applying for and receiving unemployment benefits in 2020, when he was employed and campaigning for Congress.

Prosecutors also claim he used campaign contributions to pay off debt and purchase designer clothing during his second congressional campaign.

He is also accused of providing misleading financial disclosures to the House.

Mr Santos was elected to Congress last year, but it was later revealed that much of his campaign was based on falsehoods.

The congressman claimed to have worked at Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, though there is no evidence he worked at either company.

Claims that he holds degrees from New York University and Baruch College were also refuted.

The New York politician also lied about having Jewish heritage, as well as his mother dying in the World Trade Centre terror attacks.

“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,” Mr Peace said.

He later admitted to “embellishing on his resume”.

Many of Mr Santos's colleagues in Congress have called on him to resign, including Republicans, although House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has been reticent to weigh in on the matter.

Republicans control the chamber with a narrow 222-213 margin.

“I think in America, you’re innocent till proven guilty,” Mr McCarthy told reporters on Tuesday.

Steve Scalise, the No 2 Republican in the House, described the charges as “serious” but added, “there's a presumption of innocence” in the US.

Mr Santos has given no indication that he plans to step down due to the indictment.

He also faces a separate investigation from the House Ethics Committee, which unanimously voted in March to probe a series of allegations about him.

Agencies contributed to this report

Updated: May 11, 2023, 5:44 AM