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Rep.-elect George Santos acknowledges ‘résumé embellishment’ but answers little on finances

The Long Island Republican was pressed to address questions about whether he fabricated his biography and why he reported skyrocketing wealth

New York Rep.-elect George Santos speaks at the Republican Jewish Coalition's annual leadership meeting in Las Vegas on Nov. 19. (David Becker/For The Washington Post)
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George Santos, a Long Island Republican who won a pivotal U.S. House race in November, acknowledged Monday night that he embellished his biography, seeking to explain his actions by saying in a radio interview that “a lot of people overstate in their résumés.”

While Santos played down the harm done with his claims, first raised in a New York Times story last week, he did briefly address how his wealth has skyrocketed in the past several years to enable him to lend hundreds of thousands of dollars to his campaign.

He told City and State NY that after different jobs, he opened his own firm and “it just worked because I had the relationships and I started making a lot of money. And I fundamentally started building wealth.” With that, he added, “I decided I’d invest in my race for Congress. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

Democrats call for George Santos to resign seat over résumé ‘lies’

In an interview with New York’s WABC radio, Santos said, “If I disappointed anyone by my résumé embellishment, I’m sorry,” and he vowed that “I will be sworn in. I will take office.”

Santos also gave an interview on Monday to the New York Post, which ran a headline calling him a “liar” and quoted him as saying “I am not a criminal.” He said in that interview that, contrary to his campaign biography, “I didn’t graduate from any institution of higher learning.”

This past week, after the New York Times report raised a host of questions about whether Santos had fabricated much of his biography, Santos’s lawyer said the congressman-elect had been defamed, but he did not address specifics. The Times noted that Santos claimed that he worked for Goldman Sachs and Citigroup. Spokesmen for both companies confirmed to The Post that they had no record of his employment.

Santos said during the 11-minute radio interview on Monday that “the way it’s stated on the résumé, doing work for — I have worked ‘for,’ not ‘on’ or ‘at’ or ‘in’.” He said that he learned a lesson but that it doesn’t mean “I’m some fictional character.”

When Santos in June 2021 announced his bid for New York’s 3rd District, which largely represents an affluent section of the North Shore of Long Island, he made a promise that few other candidates could match. If elected, he said in a campaign video, “I pledge to never take a salary.”

He furthered the impression that he was independently wealthy by lending his campaign at least $580,000, and his political action committee at least $27,000, according to Federal Election Commission filings. The loans played a key role in his surprising victory and helped give Republicans a narrow majority in the House.

The Post’s Marianna Sotomayor explains what to expect now that the Republicans won back control of the U.S. House after the midterm election. (Video: Mahlia Posey/The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

In his first bid for the House, Santos said in a 2020 financial disclosure that he had no assets or earned income, and he only cited a commission worth more than $5,000.

But by the time Santos filed his 2022 financial disclosure, he declared he was worth millions of dollars, with most of the wealth coming from a Florida company in which he was the sole owner: the Devolder Organization.

At one point, Santos said on his campaign website that Devolder was a privately held family firm that had $80 million in assets under management, a claim that has since been removed.

Documents filed with the Florida secretary of state show that Santos organized the company in May 2021, one month before he declared his latest candidacy. A little more than a year later, on July 30, 2022, the financial data company Dun & Bradstreet estimated that Devolder had a revenue of only $43,688.

That estimate, which previously has not been reported, was based on Dun & Bradstreet’s “modeling” and “data science,” the firm said in a statement to The Post. As a privately held company, Devolder does not need to publicly release financial reports.

In any case, on Sept. 6, when Santos filed his financial disclosure report with the clerk of the U.S. House, he said the Devolder Organization had provided him with millions of dollars. Santos reported that the Devolder Organization had paid him an annual salary of $750,000 in 2021 and 2022, and that the company was worth between $1 million and $5 million.

Asked in the radio interview about a report that he had put $700,000 into his campaign, he responded: “That is the money of — that I’ve paid myself through my company, Devolder Organization.”

Candidates are required to file accurate reports of their finances with the clerk of the House. If a candidate knowingly files a form that is false, it could violate a number of laws, according to the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center.

The attorney general may pursue civil or criminal penalties against someone who “knowingly and willfully falsifies” financial disclosure statements filed to the House, according to the instruction guide by the House Ethics Committee on filing such statements. Fines can reach up to $250,000 and imprisonment can be as long as five years, according to the guide. And the House can take “additional action,” according to the guide.

John Catsimatidis, who is WABC’s owner and also donated to Santos’s campaign, said during the interview: “So in other words, you said you exaggerated your résumé a little bit, but it wasn’t anything criminal about that.”

“No, not at all,” Santos responded. He then attacked the media coverage of his claims. “John, do you know, we’re living in a world now that apparently I’m a closeted straight man passing through as a gay man.” Santos appears to have been referencing an article in the Daily Beast, which noted divorce records filed two weeks before launching his first bid for Congress in 2020 that indicate he was previously married to a woman.

In a statement to The Post, Charlie Stadtlander, a spokesperson for the New York Times, said its “deeply-researched and thoroughly fact-checked reporting speaks for itself. We stand behind its publication unreservedly.”

In 2008, Santos faced criminal charges for check fraud when he lived in Brazil, and he later confessed to the crime, the Times reported, citing court records in that country. In recent years, he has also faced two eviction proceeds and lost a case in small-claims court and was ordered to pay $5,000 plus interest after borrowing money from a friend, the Times said in a second article.

Additional questions have been raised about Santos’s claim of Jewish ancestry. In his initial campaign video, in which he called New York City “a Third World hell hole,” Santos said, “my grandparents survived the Holocaust.”

Speaking to the Republican Jewish Coalition on Nov. 19, Santos said that his grandfather fled Ukraine for Belgium and then immigrated to Brazil. Reports last week by Forward and Jewish Insider questioned that claim, citing genealogical evidence suggesting Santos’s maternal grandmother and grandfather were probably native Brazilians. Santos has said his father was born in Brazil and has Angolan roots, the Jewish Insider said.

Asked in the radio interview whether his grandparents were born in Brazil, Santos responded: “To the best of my knowledge, to the best of my understanding, no, they were not.” He told the New York Post that he is “clearly Catholic” but that his grandmother had said she was Jewish and converted to Catholicism.

A Santos spokesman did not respond to requests for comment before or after the radio interview.

Robert Zimmerman, the Democratic candidate who lost to Santos in the November general election, told The Post that Santos’s alleged misrepresentations about his Jewish ancestry and his family’s survival of the Holocaust are “vile and despicable.”

“The fact that he would exploit for his own personal gain the atrocity and tragedy — the death of 6 million Jews — just reflects how unfit he is for public office,” Zimmerman said.

“There are no excuses. There’s no misunderstandings,” Zimmerman said Monday before Santos commented. “This is nothing more than just a vulgar, hateful behavior” that is meant to “manipulate and exploit an unimaginable tragedy.”

On his website, Santos had said: “After graduating, George Anthony began working at Citigroup as an associate and quickly advanced to become an associate asset manager in the real asset division of the firm.” He also said he “was then offered an exciting opportunity with Goldman Sachs but what he thought would be the pinnacle of his career was not as fulfilling as he had anticipated.”

Santos played down any harm done by his exaggerations. “A lot of people overstate on their résumé or twist a little bit, or ingratiate themselves,” Santos told WABC radio. “I’m not saying I’m not guilty of that, I’m just saying I’ve done so much good work in my career.”

Santos also said none of his soon-to-be colleagues in Congress could withstand the scrutiny he has been subjected to, telling City and State NY, that “we wouldn’t have a single congressman in the House and I bet you we wouldn’t have a single senator in the Senate.”

Republicans are divided about how to handle the extensive allegations against Santos. Fred Zeidman, a GOP donor and member of the Republican Jewish Coalition’s board of directors, said he wants to see a response from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California or other GOP leaders such as officials at the Republican National Committee. A McCarthy spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.

Zeidman, a former chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, said he spoke with Santos at the RJC’s annual leadership meeting in November, where Santos gave a speech in which he highlighted what he said was his Jewish ancestry. At the time, Zeidman came away impressed but has since been stunned by reports raising questions about Santos’s biography.

“I’m really sort of torn,” Zeidman said, “because you don’t want to give up a Republican seat in Congress, and I’m not sure we could ever win it back again. But I certainly think that the leadership of the Republican Party has an obligation not to seat someone that is obviously totally phony.”

Alice Crites contributed to this report.