Republican congressman charged with fraud, money laundering pleads not guilty
New York, May 10 (EFE).- US congressman George Santos, a Republican from New York known for having fabricated aspects of his life history to aid his political fortunes, pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to charges that included fraud and money laundering.
He was released on $500,000 bond.
The 34-year-old defendant appeared before a federal judge in suburban Long Island after an indictment unsealed earlier in the day charged him with 13 counts: wire fraud (seven), money laundering (three), theft of public funds (one) and making materially false statements to the US House of Representatives (two).
The lawmaker pleaded not guilty to all of those charges, according to reports by media present at the arraignment in Central Islip, New York.
Afterward, he reiterated in remarks to reporters that he will not resign and will seek re-election in 2024.
He also said he will be compliant with court orders and vowed to clear his name, calling the indictment a “witch hunt.”
“I have no desire not to comply at this point,” Santos said. “Now I’m going to have to go and fight to defend myself.”
Referring to charges that he fraudulently sought to obtain pandemic-related unemployment benefits, the congressman said he does not know “where the government’s getting their information, but I will present my facts.”
“I have plenty of evidence that we will now be sharing with the government in this case to make sure that I can defend my innocence.”
Anne Shields, a US magistrate judge for the Eastern District of New York, required three people to co-sign Santos’ bail bond and restricted his travel to New York City, Long Island and Washington DC.
Santos, who was elected in November 2022 as the representative of New York state’s 3rd congressional district, which includes part of Long Island, would need court approval to travel elsewhere, the judge ruled.
The Justice Department said in a press release Wednesday morning that Santos, if found guilty, “faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison for the top counts.”
In the Justice Department’s press release, Breon Peace, the US attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said the allegations in the indictment charge Santos with “relying on repeated dishonesty and deception to ascend to the halls of Congress and enrich himself.
“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,” Peace added.
The New York Times first reported on the various fabrications that dotted his resume, including falsehoods pertaining to his family history, religion, education and other aspects of his personal life.
Santos himself has admitted to “embellishing” some of those details.
But continued media scrutiny has revealed suspected criminal conduct related to his use of campaign contributions.
Even so, although Republican officials in New York state have distanced themselves from Santos and called on him to resign, he has not faced the same pressure from his party at the national level thus far. EFE