Brazilian authorities relaunch fraud case against George Santos
When Representative-elect George Santos takes his seat in Congress on Tuesday, he will do so under the shadow of active investigations by federal and local prosecutors into possible criminal activity during his two congressional campaigns.
But an older criminal case may be more urgent: Brazilian law enforcement authorities intend to relaunch fraud charges against Mr. Santos and will seek his formal response, prosecutors told The New York Times on Monday. .
The case, which stemmed from a 2008 incident involving a stolen checkbook, had been on hold for the better part of a decade because police could not locate it.
Nathaly Ducoulombier, spokeswoman for the Rio de Janeiro prosecutor’s office, said that once “the whereabouts of Mr. Santos have been identified”, a formal request will be sent to the US Department of Justice to inform it of the charges, a necessary step after which the case will proceed with or without him.
The criminal case in Brazil was first revealed in a New York Times investigation that revealed major discrepancies in his resume and questions about his financial dealings.
Just a month before his 20th birthday, Mr Santos walked into a small clothing store in the Brazilian town of Niterói, outside Rio de Janeiro. He spent nearly $700 using a stolen checkbook and a fake name, court records show.
Mr Santos admitted the fraud to the store owner in August 2009, writing on Orkut, a popular social media website in Brazil, “I know I screwed up, but I want to pay.” In 2010, he and his mother told police he stole the checkbook of a man his mother worked for and used it to make fraudulent purchases.
A judge approved the charge in September 2011 and ordered Mr. Santos to answer the case. But in October he was already in the United States and working at Dish Network in College Point, Queens, according to company records.
Despite his earlier confessions, Mr. Santos recently denied any criminal involvement, telling the New York Post: “I am not a criminal here – not here or in Brazil or in any jurisdiction in the world.
Joe Murray, a lawyer for Mr Santos, said on Monday: ‘I am in the process of engaging a local attorney to handle this alleged complaint against my client.
Mr. Santos’ swearing-in on Tuesday as representative of New York’s third congressional district was already expected to take place amid a cloud of scrutiny.
Last week, The New York Times reported irregularities in Mr. Santos’ campaign spending, including $40,000 on flights and rent payments tied to an address where Mr. Santos is allegedly staying, a possible violation of the law. ban on the use of campaign funds. for personal expenses.
The Times also revealed that Mr Santos lied about getting his college degree and misled voters about working for Citigroup and Goldman Sachs. He also admitted owing thousands of dollars in unpaid rent and withdrew his claim that he owned multiple properties.
The next step for Brazilian prosecutors is to file a motion when courts reopen at the end of the week, asking Mr. Santos to answer the charges against him. A judge would then share the request, called a letter rogatory, with the Federal Department of Justice in Brazil, which would share it with the US Department of Justice. Neither the Ministry of Justice nor the Brazilian authorities can compel Mr. Santos to respond at this stage. But Mr. Santos must be officially notified for the case to proceed.
A criminal conviction, even for a felony, is not in itself an act that would disqualify a member of Congress from performing his duties. The last time a member of Congress was removed from office for breaking the law was in 2002, when James A. Traficant Jr. was removed from office after his conviction for racketeering and bribery.
If Mr. Santos does not present a defense in the Brazilian case, he will be tried in absentia. If found guilty, Mr. Santos could receive up to five years in prison, plus a fine.
Manuela Andreoni and Michael Gold contributed report.