Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) pleaded not guilty to 13 criminal charges on Wednesday, hours after federal prosecutors formally accused him of misleading donors and misrepresenting his finances to the public and government agencies.
Santos entered his not guilty plea at the federal courthouse in Central Islip, N.Y., and was released on a $500,000 bond. His next court appearance is June 30 before U.S. District Judge Joanna Seybert, who was nominated by then-President Clinton in 1993.
The charges against the congressman include seven counts of wire fraud, three counts of money laundering, one count of theft of public funds and two counts of making materially false statements to the House of Representatives.
Santos’s plea marks a pivotal moment in his roughly four-month tenure in Congress, which has been marked by controversy and criticism. Even before he was sworn into office, questions were raised about Santos’s personal and professional biography. The scrutiny has since expanded to his finances, which were at the center of Wednesday’s indictment.
The indictment accuses Santos of engaging in schemes that misrepresented his finances to the public — including donors — and government agencies.
The majority of the charges against Santos — the five counts of wire fraud and three counts of money laundering — pertain to claims that Santos directed an unnamed individual to tell potential campaign donors their contributions would go toward purchasing advertisements for his campaign, when they were actually used for personal expenses.
According to the indictment, Santos transferred approximately $74,000 of contributions to his personal bank accounts, which went toward personal expenses, like purchasing designer clothing and paying off personal debts.
Santos is also accused of fraudulently receiving more than $24,000 in unemployment benefits and of making false statements to the House of Representatives in financial disclosure reports in May 2020 and September 2022 during his congressional campaigns.
The top charge of wire fraud carries a maximum jail time of 20 years. The judge can decide to make any sentences run concurrently if Santos is convicted on multiple counts.
The indictment does not bar Santos from serving in Congress. According to House Rules, members who are criminally charged with a felony that carries a sentence of two or more years in prison should resign from their committee assignments and step down from party leadership. Santos had stepped down from his committee assignments in January amid the mounting controversy, and he does not serve in House GOP leadership.
Still, Republican lawmakers from New York have been calling for his resignation or expulsion for months, and those calls grew after the charges were unsealed.
“The people of New York’s 3rd district deserve a voice in congress. George Santos should be immediately expelled from Congress and a special election initiated at the soonest possible date,” Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas) wrote on Twitter on Wednesday.
GOP leadership has not echoed those calls.
On Wednesday, Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) and House GOP Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik — the highest-ranking New York Republican in the chamber — all stopped short of calling for Santos’s resignation.
“He could go through his time of trial, we’ll find out how the outcome is,” McCarthy told reporters. When asked whether the allegations of money laundering, wire fraud and lying to Congress concerned him, he responded that it “always concerns me.”
“As I’ve said from the very beginning on questions on this subject, this legal process is going to play itself out,” Stefanik told reporters at the press conference. “Unfortunately, this is not the first time a member of Congress from either party has been indicted. There are a set of rules and, as the majority leader stated, he voluntarily had stepped down from his committees.”
Multiple entities are said to be looking into Santos or have received formal complaints about the congressman, including the House Ethics Committee, which launched an investigation in March.
The Ethics panel said it is looking into if Santos “engaged in unlawful activity with respect to his 2022 congressional campaign; failed to properly disclose required information on statements filed with the House; violated federal conflict of interest laws in connection with his role in a firm providing fiduciary services; and/or engaged in sexual misconduct towards an individual seeking employment in his congressional office.”