- By Holly Honderich
- in Washington
Scandal Republican congressman George Santos has pleaded not guilty to more than a dozen federal charges, including fraud and money laundering.
The 34-year-old is charged with misusing money, lying to Congress about his income and illegally receiving unemployment benefits.
Outside the New York courthouse, he called the investigation a “witch hunt.”
Since he first took office in January, it has been widely reported that much of his biography is fabricated.
If convicted of the top crimes, the New York representative could face up to 20 years in prison.
Mr Santos was released on $500,000 (£400,000) bail, secured by three unidentified individuals.
Outside federal court on Long Island on Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Santos defiantly said he would not resign and vowed to “keep fighting” for his district.
“This is the beginning of my ability to deal with and protect myself,” he said.
He will be confined to his home state of New York, to Washington DC and places in between. Other travel must be pre-approved.
The congressman spoke only once during the hearing, telling the judge “yes ma’am,” according to the Associated Press. He was fingerprinted and a photograph taken. His next trial is scheduled for June 30.
The 20-page, 13-count indictment alleges Republicans were involved in three elaborate fraud schemes.
First, according to federal prosecutors, Mr. Santos defrauded people who gave him money to campaign for the House of Representatives, instead using the money for personal expenses including clothing. luxury brand and pay by credit card.
Second, Mr Santos is accused of being involved in an unemployment insurance fraud scheme that asks the government for Covid-19 support despite earning a salary of $120,000 (£95,000) through employment for a Florida-based investment company – one that has been shut down by the federal government. in 2021 because of allegations it was a Ponzi scheme.
Ultimately, prosecutors claimed Republicans misled Congress with their finances.
He faces seven counts of wire fraud, three counts of money laundering, one count of theft of public funds and two counts of making false statements to the House.
US Attorney Breon Peace said the indictment “seeks to hold Santos accountable for numerous alleged fraud schemes and blatant misinformation”.
“Taken together, the charges in the indictment accuse Santos of relying on deception and repeated deception to get into the chambers of Congress and enrich himself,” Peace said.
The Long Island lawmaker has been embroiled in a scandal since he took office in January.
He has been accused of lying about his college degree and work experience; violate campaign finance and conflict of interest laws; falsely claiming that one’s grandparents had survived the Holocaust; and created a fake animal charity that he used to extract cash for a veteran’s dying dog.
Campaign funding forms discovered by US media showed a batch of $199.99 filings, exactly one cent below the $200 threshold at which receipts are required, set. raised questions about how his election funds were spent.
In a televised interview in February, Mr Santos admitted he was a “bad liar” in an attempt to gain acceptance by his party. But he insisted the lies were “not meant to deceive people” and he denied any criminal wrongdoing.
In February, House Democrats submitted a resolution to expel Mr. Santos, a largely symbolic act in the Republican-controlled chamber.
In the past, he has also faced calls to resign from his own party.
Marc Molinaro, a Republican in the New York House of Representatives, said on Wednesday: “I can’t wait for him to go.
Sen. Mitt Romney, who confronted Santos at President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address in February, said the New York representative should have resigned months ago. “I think we’re seeing the wheel of justice turn slowly, but run very well,” Romney said.
Mr Santos withdrew from two House committees due to “constant attention” earlier this year, but he resisted growing pressure to step down, announcing in April that he would seek a term. second in 2024.
On Wednesday, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said Republicans would withhold the ruling until the outcome of his case.
“In America, you’re innocent until proven guilty,” he told reporters after a weekly meeting with Republican House members.
He later added that he would not support Santos’ re-election bid.