George Santos Scandal: East End Entangled in Crooked Congressman’s Web of Lies

George Santos from from the Lee Zeldin primary victory party in Baldwin on June 28, 2022
George Santos from from the Lee Zeldin primary victory party in Baldwin on June 28, 2022 (Bruce Adler)

Freshman U.S. Rep. George Santos (R-Nassau/Queens), the admitted liar facing growing calls to resign amid multiple investigations into his finances, has found himself in hot water on the East End.

Santos took campaign donations from the cousin of Viktor Vekselberg, the Russian oligarch whose Southampton mansion federal investigators raided last year while enforcing sanctions for Vekselberg’s support of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Santos falsely claimed to own a multimillion-dollar Hamptons mansion as a part of a fictitious family real estate empire when he was actually an evicted Queens renter. And fellow freshman U.S. Rep. Nick LaLota, who won ex-Congressman Lee Zeldin’s seat representing the East End in Congress, has joined bipartisan calls for Santos to resign and be investigated.

“To the extent there is actually any real money in the campaign account of Congressman George Santos, the funds should be immediately frozen by the United States Department of Justice or Federal Election Commission,” LaLota said. “If those federal agencies need more authority to do so, I’ll take the lead. Congressman Santos fraudulently solicited these funds and Santos shouldn’t be allowed to drain his campaign account while multiple authorities investigate the very fraud that induced these contributions.”

Nick LaLota is calling for George Santos to resign
Nick LaLota is calling for George Santos to resignCongressional Portrait

Mounting Santos Lies & Investigations

The Daily Beast first reported last year Santos’ ties to Vekselberg and employment for a firm that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission accused of operating a Ponzi scheme — Santos wasn’t personally implicated — with other media digging into those connections more recently.

This fall, the North Shore Leader questioned the unusual $600,000 loan Santos gave his 2022 campaign from his own company despite reporting $50,000 in income two years prior.

And after Santos beat Democratic rival Robert Zimmerman in the 3rd Congressional District in northern Nassau and northeastern Queens on Election Day — the seat was vacated by ex-Congressman Tom Suozzi, who ran a second losing gubernatorial bid instead of seeking re-election — The New York Times revealed that Santos fabricated much of his resume.

Santos later admitted to the New York Post that he did not actually graduate from either Baruch College or New York University and never worked at Citigroup or Goldman Sachs. But he downplayed reports in The Forward in which genealogical records revealed Santos’ claims that his maternal grandparents fled the Holocaust during World War II were a lie.

In his defense, he said he was Catholic but his ancestry made him “Jew-ish,” but denied his prior public statements claiming to be a “proud American Jew.” He has not addressed reports finding no record of an animal rescue he claimed to have founded called Friends of Pets United, downplayed allegations of check fraud made against him in Brazil and repeatedly refused calls to resign.

“If 142 people ask for me to resign, I’ll resign,” Santos told ABC News, later clarifying that he meant the “142,000 voters who voted for me.”

While the lies about his life story do not rise to the level of criminality — although laws named for Santos have since been proposed to make such lies a crime — it’s the question about Santos’ finances that have drawn the interest of federal prosecutors, the New York State attorney general and Nassau County prosecutors, and prompted requests for the House Congressional Ethics Committee and U.S. Federal Elections Commission to investigate.

Santos’ previously reported ties to Vekselberg’s cousin Andrew Intrater, an American citizen who donated thousands to the congressman’s campaign, deepened when The Washington Post revealed a Santos recording in which he said Intrater’s company was his “client” and that SEC records showed the company made a $625,000 deposit with Santos’ firm.

“So tightly intertwined is Intrater’s business with that of his relative, who snatched up swaths of Russia’s aluminum and fuel industries during the post-Soviet period, that Columbus Nova described itself in 2007 Securities and Exchange Commission filings as ‘the U.S.-based affiliate’ of Vekselberg’s Renova Group,” the Daily Beast reported.

Police stand inside the gated grounds of a home linked to Viktor Vekselberg, in Southampton, on Thursday Sept. 1, 2022. (John Roca/Newsday via AP)

Agents with the FBI and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) were spotted September 1 searching 19 Duck Pond Lane, which was purchased in 2008 for $11.4 million by an entity known as Medallion Inc., a Panama-registered company that lists as director Olesya Kharlamova, the wife of Vekselberg’s childhood friend Vladimir Voronchenko.

Vekselberg, a Ukrainian-born businessman who is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, had been sanctioned in 2018, but the U.S. Department of Justice recently stepped up its efforts to seize his and other oligarchs’ assets after Russia invaded Ukraine in February.

He is the founding chairman of Moscow-based Renova Group, an aluminum, oil, energy and telecoms conglomerate. Worth a reported $9.3 billion, he is ranked among the richest people in the world and is believed to own the world’s largest collection of Fabergé eggs.

Santos in the Hamptons — Or Not

While the questions surrounding Santos’ finances are very real — he reportedly filed multiple campaign expenses that fell one penny short of requiring he show the FEC receipts, among other questionable findings — his claims of owning a Hamptons mansion on Dune Road that he was selling for $10 million were not.

“An investigation of Santos’ alleged Hamptons mansion showed the house is owned by someone else having nothing to do with Santos and a market value of less than $2 million,” the North Shore Leader reported.

What was real was Santos’ eviction from a Queens row house apartment and a judgement for failure to pay rent.

How all of these red flags were missed before Election Day proved to be a source of frustration for many. Not seeing him as a real threat, Suozzi didn’t bother paying for opposition research when he faced Santos in 2020.

In its opposition research on Santos for last year’s election cycle, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee raised several red flags about the Republican’s record — but also accepted some of his assertions, including his educational record, as fact. The 87-page dossier sought to tie him to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and his support for baseless claims of widespread fraud in the 2020 presidential election. The report also sought to depict him as a far-right candidate. But buried within its report, the DCCC had raised issues about his shaky financial standing and multiple evictions that left him thousands of dollars in debt

Zimmerman said he lacked the resources to further investigate those and other findings and instead focused his time and energy on promoting his policy positions instead of attacking his opponent’s background last fall.

The Nassau Republican Committee, which joined calls for Santos to resign, said it will revamp its vetting process in the future and relied too heavily on the Queens GOP’s recommendation.

The Queens GOP stood by Santos, refused to call for his resignation and said he’s entitled to due process.

The Times reported that the Santos campaign learned about some of his lies in 2021 when it commissioned a vulnerability study to test what dirt opponents might find — and his staff resigned when he refused to drop out. The Nassau GOP said they were not aware of that study.

Although new House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) needed Santos’ vote to secure his leadership of the incoming Republican majority following 15 rounds earlier this month, Santos’ future in Congress remains as cloudy as his backstory.

-With Associated Press

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