The strange story of George Santos

Last month Republican George Santos won New York’s 3rd congressional district which is in Long Island. Santos had competed for the seat in 2020 but lost by about 12 points. This year, thanks to redistricting, he ran in a slightly different 3rd district against Democrat Robert Zimmerman and won by about 8 points. One of the things Santos had going for him was a sort of rags to riches immigrant biography. But the NY Times published a story suggesting much of that story isn’t true.

His campaign biography amplified his storybook journey: He is the son of Brazilian immigrants, and the first openly gay Republican to win a House seat as a non-incumbent. By his account, he catapulted himself from a New York City public college to become a “seasoned Wall Street financier and investor” with a family-owned real estate portfolio of 13 properties and an animal rescue charity that saved more than 2,500 dogs and cats.

But a New York Times review of public documents and court filings from the United States and Brazil, as well as various attempts to verify claims that Mr. Santos, 34, made on the campaign trail, calls into question key parts of the résumé that he sold to voters.

Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, the marquee Wall Street firms on Mr. Santos’s campaign biography, told The Times they had no record of his ever working there.

When the paper sent questions to Santos about the discrepancies, he didn’t respond. His attorney sent a brief statement saying “no surprise that Congressman-elect Santos has enemies at The New York Times who are attempting to smear his good name with these defamatory allegations.”

The Times also uncovered a criminal record from time he spent in a suburb of Rio as a young man. Santos confessed to fraud but apparently never appeared in court which means the case is unresolved. And the charges in Brazil also call into question another part of his biography.

In 2008, when Mr. Santos was 19, he stole the checkbook of a man his mother was caring for, according to Brazilian court records uncovered by The Times. Police and court records show that Mr. Santos used the checkbook to make fraudulent purchases, including a pair of shoes. Two years later, Mr. Santos confessed to the crime and was later charged.

The court and local prosecutor in Brazil confirmed the case remains unresolved. Mr. Santos did not respond to an official summons, and a court representative could not find him at his given address, records show.

That period in Brazil overlapped with when Mr. Santos said he was attending Baruch College, where he has said he was awarded a bachelor’s degree in economics and finance. But Baruch College said it was unable to find records of Mr. Santos — using multiple variations of his first, middle and last names — having graduated in 2010, as he has claimed.

Another online biography mentioned his attendance at NYU but the school said he didn’t attend there either. Did he go to college at all? Of course you don’t have to go to college to be elected to office but the problem here is that it appears he lied about his life story.

The Times also found evidence that two different landlords filed eviction paperwork against Santos in 2015 and 2017 yet in 2022 he seemed to be doing quite well and lent his campaign $700,000.

Santos released a defiant statement about the story which never quite gets around to denying the report.

Some have also noted that the Winston Churchill quote used in the statement is something Churchill never said. All of this is obviously very embarrassing if it turns out to be true. NBC News published an opinion piece arguing that it’s Democrats who ought to be embarrassed.

And in the case of Santos, it appears that Democrats failed to look into not one but an entire range of allegedly dubious claims made by the congressman-elect. Even more astonishing — and indeed puzzling for Democrats — is the fact that this wasn’t Santos’ first rodeo. In 2020, he lost his bid for the same House seat to Democrat Tom Suozzi, who ended up trouncing Santos by double digits.

As an incumbent with what should have been a fairly sophisticated campaign operation, how did Suozzi’s team also fail to uncover the apparent Chicxulub-sized gaps in Santos’ résumé? (It seems entirely unlikely that Suozzi’s team knew about Santos’ seemingly spotty past and failed to share it with Zimmerman’s team or DCCC operatives.)

Moreover, what does all this say about Democrats’ overall political operation not only in New York state but nationwide? If a guy like Santos can win elections unchecked, it’s reasonable to ask how many other Republican candidates with similar fictional origin stories have been able to coast into positions of power over the years. It appears that Democrats, at least in this case, have been asleep at the wheel for some time. More broadly, it calls into question whether current Democratic Party leadership has committed more than just this single unforced error and whether they could have come even close to keeping control of the House. This Santos case should force some real self-examination on the part of Democrat’s political operations.

It’s early but you’d think if Santos had documents to confirm his employment or academic history he’d have offered those to someone by now. What happens next is anyone’s guess. There are calls for him to resign and threats of an ethics investigation but at the moment he doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. A professor of public policy interviewed near the end of this local news story suggests it’s “extremely rare” for the House to expel anyone. Lying about your achievements is wrong obviously but fortunately for a lot of politicians in congress it’s not a crime.

Yesterday, Forward reported that Santos claims about his Jewish grandparents fleeing persecution during WWII seems to be made up as well.

The very first line of the “About George” page on his campaign website states: “George’s grandparents fled Jewish persecution in Ukraine, settled in Belgium, and again fled persecution during WWII.”

But the website lists Santos’ maternal grandparents as having both been born in Brazil before the Nazis rose to power — his grandfather, Paulo Horta Devolder, in 1918, and his grandmother, Rosalina Caruso Horta Devolder, in Rio, in 1927. An online obituary for Santos’ mother, Fatima Aziza Caruso Horta Devolder, who died in 2016, says she was born in Niterói, a suburb of Rio de Janeiro, on Dec. 22, 1962, to Paul and Rosalina Devolder.

Forward took a look at his mother’s Facebook page and it offers no indication she was Jewish or from a Jewish family. On the contrary, it appears that she was Catholic. And then there’s the question of Santos’ sexuality. He says he’s gay but he apparently divorced a woman in 2019.

Santos, who claims he has “never experienced discrimination in the Republican Party,” broke barriers this year when he became the first openly gay non-incumbent GOP candidate elected to Congress.

But according to court records obtained by The Daily Beast, Santos appears to be the subject of a previously unacknowledged Sept. 2019 divorce with a woman in Queens County, New York. The divorce—which Santos has not discussed publicly—adds new uncertainty to his already shaky biographical and political claims…

Less than two weeks after his divorce was finalized, Santos filed the official paperwork to launch his 2020 campaign. And while his 2022 campaign bio mentions his husband, who according to Santos lives with him and their four dogs on Long Island, he’s kept this previous marriage out of the public eye entirely.

Santos wouldn’t be the first gay man to have married a woman but the fact that he was married to one so recently does seem to add another wrinkle to his biography. Yesterday, Santos responded to the general confusion with a tweet promising to answer everyone’s questions next week. A guess a lot of crisis communications firms are off the week before Christmas.

The NY Times published a follow up story today which finds that when Santos was supposedly working at Citigroup he was actually a call center employee at Dish network.

The polite young customer service agent at the Dish Network call center in Queens could speak English and Portuguese, so when Brazilian immigrants had trouble with their billing or their satellite dish, their calls would be routed his way.

It was around 2012, and the man was George Santos, a son of Brazilian immigrants who, more than a decade later, would win a crucial election to Congress.

But on the campaign trail, Mr. Santos told a different story about his life: that around the same time that Dish Network records show he was working there, he was rising through the ranks at Citigroup in the first step of an extensive and lucrative Wall Street career that also included a stint at Goldman Sachs.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being a call center employee for Dish network but it’s obviously not as prestigious as working for Goldman Sachs. People who knew him at the time said he bragged about his real estate holdings even as he lived in a small apartment in Queens. Even the people who knew him at the time suggest he was prone to lying about his own story.

Peter Hamilton met Mr. Santos near the start of 2014, he said. He recalled how Mr. Santos, who claimed to be an N.Y.U. graduate, had not recognized the name of the business school he said he had attended. Nonetheless, Mr. Hamilton found him charismatic and intelligent. “He seems to know what to say, and how to say it to people,” Mr. Hamilton recalled in an interview.

He did not hesitate when Mr. Santos said that he needed to borrow several thousand dollars to move in with his boyfriend, and lent him the money in September 2014, court documents show. Not long afterward, Mr. Hamilton said, Mr. Santos stopped responding to his texts and calls.

One of the remaining mysteries is where Santos and his husband currently live. Just two months ago he said that he was living in Whitestone Queens.

He then suggested he was moving to Oyster Bay which is within his new district but it appears he actually lives a few miles away in Huntington, just outside his district.

As the Times points out, elected officials are required to live in the state they represent but not necessarily within the district. So there’s nothing illegal about where Santos lives it’s just another way in which his actual history is hard to pin down.

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