The saga of Rep. George Santos: Inside his many fabrications, exaggerations, and embellishments

ByJeremy Murn WABC logo
Monday, January 23, 2023
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NEW YORK (WABC) -- In the weeks after George Santos was elected to represent New York's 3rd Congressional District, major discrepancies in his biography came to light.

Local, state, and federal prosecutors are examining the many claims the Republican representative has made about his life and career that have come under scrutiny, including his financial disclosures, ABC News reported.

The controversy began on Dec. 19, 2022, when the New York Times reported that parts of Santos' biography about his education, career, and charity work were called into question by public records and the schools and companies he claimed were involved.

MORE: Queens DA is 3rd prosecutor's office looking into George Santos

Education

As the Times first reported, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) website states he received degrees from New York University and Baruch College. His campaign website also said he graduated from Baruch.

However, representatives for NYU and Baruch confirmed to ABC News that they have no record of Santos attending their institutions.

Days later, in an interview with The New York PostSantos admitted that he never graduated from college.

In addition to having falsely said he attended Baruch College, which he has since admitted, another part of his education has now been challenged.

On an archived version of his 2020 congressional website, Santos said he went to the elite private school Horace Mann in New York City but did not graduate due to financial difficulties of his family. He said he went on to obtain his GED.

But a spokesperson for the school on Thursday confirmed to ABC News -- and other outlets -- that he never attended Horace Mann.

MORE: Colleges, banks have no record of NY congressman-elect

Income and Finances

The biography on the NRCC site also claimed that Santos worked for companies such as Citigroup and Goldman Sachs. But spokespeople for Goldman Sachs and Citigroup told ABC News that they have no record of Santos ever being employed.

Santos told the Post that he stated his work experience "poorly" and insisted he did business with the two large financial institutions as vice president of a company called Link Bridge.

Santos later seemed to backtrack on some of his admissions of actual falsehoods on his resume during a Fox News interview, saying that his claim that he worked for Goldman Sachs and Citigroup is "debatable" and that Link Bridge, a firm he served as vice president for, did "extensive" business with the two Wall Street giants.

In 2020 when he first ran for Congress, Santos listed no assets and a salary of $55,000 in his personal financial disclosure report filed as a House candidate.

But his 2022 personal financial disclosure report filed as a candidate subsequently showed his fortunes had drastically changed: He owned assets valued between $2.6 million and $11.25 million, including an apartment in Rio de Janeiro, a checking account, and a savings account.

According to the 2022 disclosure, he reported earning millions between January 2021 through December 2022 from his New York-based company, Devolder Organization. He also reported having a car loan worth between $15,001-$50,000.

Santos did not identify any clients of Devolder on his disclosure form and the company does not appear to have a public presence, such as a website. His campaign website previously called it his "family firm," where he oversaw $80 million in client assets as the managing principal.

He told the news outlet Semafor that he made his money in part by matching sellers of luxury goods like planes and yachts with potential buyers and taking a cut. He described Devolder as working in "deal building" and "specialty consulting" and his clients as "high net worth individuals."

"If you're looking at a $20 million yacht, my referral fee there can be anywhere between $200,000 and $400,000," Santos told Semafor.

According to his campaign disclosure filed with the Federal Election Commission, Santos reported loaning his congressional campaign $705,000 between 2020 and 2022, including $500,000 in March 2022 and a last-minute injection of $125,000 in the final weeks of the 2022 election cycle.

The FEC sent a letter to the Santos campaign asking to properly itemize the $125,000 loan.

MORE: Calls grow for FEC to investigate George Santos' campaign finances

Charity

According to an archived version of his campaign website, Santos previously said he ran a 501(c)(3) charity called Friends of Pets United, but a search on the IRS' website did not find a listing for a charity under that name.

The mention of Friends of Pets United appears to have been removed from Santos' campaign website.

Santos denied a Navy veteran's claim that he allegedly ran a fundraiser for the veteran's ill dog in 2016 -- and then never shared the thousands raised.

Santos, going by the name "Anthony Devolder," opened a fundraiser for Navy veteran Richard Osthoff's dog Sapphire on GoFundMe and raised $3,000 but later became uncooperative and unresponsive and didn't provide the money to treat Sapphire, Osthoff alleges.

Santos denied the allegations on Twitter.

MORE: Veteran says George Santos took money donated to help his dying dog

Family

Santos was also accused of lying about his family history, having previously said that his mother was Jewish and her parents escaped persecution during World War II and resettled in Brazil. But The Forward, a Jewish news outlet, reviewed genealogical information and found that Santos' maternal grandparents were born in Brazil.

During the Post interview, Santos said he's "clearly Catholic" but maintained that his grandmother told stories about being Jewish and later converting to Catholicism.

"I never claimed to be Jewish... I am Catholic. Because I learned my maternal family had a Jewish background, I said I was 'Jew-ish,'" Santos said.

Another apparent contradiction in Santos' biography surrounds the death of his mother, Fatima Devolder.

Santos wrote in a tweet in 2021 that "9/11 claimed my mother's life..."

In an archived version of his campaign website, he said that his mother worked in the South Tower of the World Trade Center and survived the terror attack but died "a few years later."

Today, his website states that his mother died from cancer but does not disclose if it was related to 9/11 and being exposed to Ground Zero.

Santos has seemingly revised the timeline of his mother's death as well. In a tweet from December 2021, he wrote that the date marked the five-year anniversary of his mom dying -- which would have been 2016 -- despite previously saying her death was a "few years" after 9/11.

An obituary for his mother states that she died on Dec. 23, 2016, which matches Santos' tweet last year, but it's unclear how old she was when she died. The obituary said she was born in 1962, which means she would have been 54, but the obituary states that she was 64.

ABC News has obtained the documents showing Rep. Santos' mother Fatima Devolder was not in New York during the September 11 attacks as he previously claimed.

MORE: Immigration documents show Santos' mom wasn't in NYC on 9/11

Personal life

Santos is the first openly gay non-incumbent Republican elected to the House. He said in a USA Today interview in October that he's "never had an issue with (his) sexual identity in the past decade." But reporting this month also found court records indicating that he had been married to a woman and they divorced in 2019, before a previous run for Congress.

Santos told the Post that he was married to the woman for about five years, from 2012 until his divorce in 2017.

"I dated women in the past. I married a woman. It's personal stuff," he said.

"I'm very much gay," he said. "I'm OK with my sexuality. People change. I'm one of those people who change."

ABC News confirmed a story first reported by independent journalist Marisa Kabas that a picture exists appearing to show the openly gay congressman performing in drag in Brazil in 2008.

In a tweet, Santos denied ever performing in drag.

Legal

In the interview with The New York Post, Santos flatly denied any legal wrongdoing.

"I am not a criminal here - not here or in Brazil or any jurisdiction in the world," he said. "Absolutely not. That didn't happen."

But, prosecutors in Brazil are seeking to renew charges against him in relation to a 2008 criminal case, a spokesperson for the Rio de Janeiro prosecutor's office tells ABC News.

The case involves Santos allegedly paying for goods with a stolen checkbook when he was 19, the prosecutor's spokesperson said. He is accused of forging two checks for $400 to buy clothes for him and a friend, the spokesperson said.

An attorney for Santos did not respond to multiple requests for comment from ABC News but told The New York Times: "I am in the process of engaging local counsel to address this alleged complaint against my client."

Information from ABC News was used in this report.

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