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What We Learned from the Scathing Ethics Report on George Santos

6 minute read
Updated: | Originally published:

The House Ethics Committee on Thursday said it found substantial evidence that Republican Rep. George Santos of New York stole money from his campaign and used his connections to high-value donors to enrich himself. The allegations would place him in violation of federal criminal law and likely set the stage for another push to expel the embattled first-term lawmaker from Congress.

In an explosive 56-page ethics report released after a nearly nine-month long investigation, House investigators painted a picture of a sitting lawmaker who used his campaign for personal gain, alleging that Santos spent campaign funds on Botox treatments, designer goods, and lavish trips with his husband. It also detailed his purported attempts to obfuscate his financial transactions, suggesting a deliberate effort to construct a misleading and “fictional” financial narrative within official records.

“Representative Santos sought to fraudulently exploit every aspect of his House candidacy for his own personal financial profit,” the report stated. “He blatantly stole from his campaign. He deceived donors into providing what they thought were contributions to his campaign but were in fact payments for his personal benefit.”

Shortly after the report was released, Santos announced that he would not seek re-election. "I will however NOT be seeking re-election for a second term in 2024 as my family deserves better than to be under the gun from the press all the time," he wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. He called the report “biased” and wrote, “It is a disgusting politicized smear that shows the depths of how low our federal government has sunk.”

The bipartisan House Ethics Committee voted unanimously to refer its findings to the Department of Justice, asserting that Santos' conduct "warrants public condemnation” and “is beneath the dignity of the office.” While the committee refrained from recommending specific punitive measures, the report could pave the way for a third attempt to expel Santos from office—a move that, if successful, would make him just the sixth House member to be expelled in U.S. history. Several lawmakers had previously expressed their willingness to support expulsion if criminal wrongdoing or a significant breach of ethics were found.

At 35 years old, Santos, a Republican representing parts of Long Island and Queens, has been surrounded in controversy since he admitted to lying about his job experience and college education during his campaign. He also faces a 23-count federal indictment, which includes allegations of stealing from donors and falsifying election campaign filings. Santos has pleaded not guilty and resisted calls for his resignation.

The House investigators compiled over 170,000 pages of documents and testimony from dozens of witnesses, including financial statements, to support their conclusion. The report accused Santos of knowingly causing his campaign committee to file false or incomplete reports with the Federal Election Commission, using campaign funds for personal purposes, engaging in fraudulent conduct with RedStone Strategies LLC, and violating the Ethics in Government Act in relation to his Financial Disclosure Statements filed with the House.

Here are some of the biggest findings from the report.

Misuse of campaign funds for personal travel and cosmetics

The report listed several examples of how Santos used campaign funds for personal purposes while on the campaign trail, including at least two purchases of $1,400 and $1,500 on his campaign debit card that were noted as “Botox” in expense spreadsheets. 

It also detailed the use of more than $2,000 in campaign funds at a resort in Atlantic City, more than $3,000 on an Airbnb while he was vacationing in the Hamptons, and travel and hotel charges in Las Vegas that corresponded to the time when he told staff members he was on his honeymoon. His questionable campaign spending also included $6,000 worth of luxury goods at Ferragamo stores, $1,000 in ATM withdrawals, $800 at a casino, and money to pay his rent.

According to the report, these expenditures did not appear to have a campaign purpose. A former staffer told investigators that Santos did not have any sort of fundraising or campaign activities in Atlantic City but that Santos said “he enjoyed visiting casinos to play roulette, often with his husband.” Another staffer said Santos once took him to a Botox appointment when there was a campaign event nearby.

The report also noted significant travel expenses for flights, hotels, Ubers, and meals that his campaign incurred. One witness said that Santos traveled once a month and another testified that they were “worried about the look of the campaign spending all this money on…all these dinners and travel outside of the district.” 

Deceiving donors

The report also detailed how Santos allegedly deceived campaign donors into sending money to an entity called RedStone Strategies, a Florida company that the House panel alleged he used to dupe donors into financing his lifestyle. Investigators uncovered that Santos funneled at least $200,000 to his personal bank account from RedStone through a series of transactions in 2022. Some of those funds, according to the report, were allegedly utilized to settle personal credit card debts and indulge in luxury purchases at establishments such as Hermes, Sephora and OnlyFans, the website known for its adult content.

“He deceived donors into providing what they thought were contributions to his campaign but were in fact payments for his personal benefit,” the report said, adding that his activities through RedStone were “one of many ways he sought to exploit his campaign, and the access to wealthy donors it afforded him, for his own personal profit.”

Fictitious loans

The House committee also alleges that Santos reported hundreds of thousands of dollars in fictitious loans to his campaign, and then repaid himself with real money. Investigators said that during the 2020 election cycle, Santos inflated six personal loans he made to his own campaign that were reported at $81,250, when in reality they totaled just $3,500, allowing him to benefit “politically and financially” from the false loan information by inflating the apparent finances of his campaign.

“Representative Santos was frequently in debt, had an abysmal credit score, and relied on an ever-growing wallet of high-interest credit cards to fund his luxury spending habits,” the report said, adding that at least one staffer went eight months without being paid for their work. “He occasionally deposited large amounts of cash that he has never accounted for, moved money between his various bank accounts in a highly suspicious manner, and made over $240,000 cash withdrawals for unknown purposes.”

Santos’ role

Santos has tried to blame his former treasurer for the false statements within his campaign finance reports, claiming that she “went rogue” and was responsible for all filings. But the report appears to challenge that defense strategy. Multiple witnesses testified that Santos was “hands on” and actively engaged in his campaign’s finances, noting that he received weekly finance reports and invoices, and had login credentials to the campaign's bank accounts.

“The ISC was not swayed by Representative Santos’ attempts to blame others,” the report said. “He was the ultimate beneficiary and knowing participant of much of the fraudulent reporting, as the falsely reported personal loans and contributions helped him meet benchmarks needed to win the support of the national party and project a strong campaign to the public.”

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Write to Nik Popli at nik.popli@time.com