A week before Christmas, the New York Times delivered a sobering gift to congressman Elect George Santos: an expose of lies, nefarious business dealings, and potential campaign finance violations.
Certainly, George Santos is far from the first lawmaker to lie about his credentials. Indeed, if we listed every U.S. senator and congressperson that fibbed on their resume, we would be writing for far longer than our readers would stay interested (please at least finish this post!). However, the degree to which Congressman-Elect George Santos embellished his credentials is nothing short of mendacious political prostitution.
After he was exposed, Congressman Ritchie Torres (D-NY) said, “The Ethics Committee MUST start investigating immediately.” His tweet made us chuckle. A “political ethics committee” is nothing short of an oxymoron. Additionally, Torres plans on introducing a bill that would make it a crime for candidates to fib about their qualifications. This then begs the question: if Torres’ bill becomes law, would enough honest candidates be left to fill all the vacancies?!
While being interviewed on television, Santos issued an unremarkable, canned apology, conceding that “my sins here are embellishing my resume. I’m sorry.” In our view, that should not suffice.
The House of Representatives has the “ways and means,” excuse the pun, to investigate and issue civil penalties before a congressperson-elect is inaugurated. In this egregious case they should exercise that option. Most likely, they will not.
Unfortunately, Santos’ lies and the most common response to them represent a microcosm of what ails American politics. When a member of a political party sins, most members of their own party either clam up, shamelessly defend the subject, or deflect blame. Representatives of the rival party call for the subject to be guillotined. And vice versa. There is a gaping lack of consistency across political lines.
A Summary of Congressman-Elect Santos’ fantastical (and sort of amusing) lies are below:
• Claimed he is Jewish but was raised a practicing Catholic.
• Claimed his mother fled socialism in Europe.
• Claimed he attended the prep school Horace Mann.
• Claimed he graduated from Baruch College.
• Claimed he worked at Goldman Sachs.
• Claimed he worked at Citigroup.
• Claimed 9/11 took the life of his mother.
• Claimed he founded the not-for-profit organization Friends of Pets United.
I am Jew-ish
In his biography, George Santos claimed that he was a “proud American Jew.” When pressed, Santos said, “My heritage is Jewish, I’ve always identified as Jewish. I was raised a practicing Catholic…Even [though] I’ve not, not been raised a practicing Jew, I’ve always joked with friends and circles — even in the campaign, I’d say ‘Guys, I’m Jew-ish.’ Remember, I was raised Catholic.” Umm, say what?
To compound his gibberish, Santos also stated his familial name was Zabrovsky – proceeded to raise money under it – and that his grandparents changed their last name to Devolder. However, many sources could not find any evidence to substantiate this. A genealogist found “no sign of Jewish and/or Ukrainian heritage and no indication of name changes along the way.”
In a radio interview in 2020, Mr. Santos claimed his mother left Europe to flee socialism. In another interview that year he said his mom immigrated to the US from Belgium. However, genealogical records reviewed by multiple news agencies show that his mother was born in Brazil. Said Santos, “My father fled socialism in Brazil. My mother fled socialism in Europe, and they came here and built a family. And today they can be proud to have a son who is a well accomplished businessman, who is now running for United States Congress. That’s something that wasn’t in the cards for my family.” The part about Santos running for congress is true. The rest is a farce.
George Santos claimed he attended Horace Mann, a prep school in the Bronx, but had to withdraw four months before graduating because his family fell into financial distress during the housing bust in 2008. His explanation, “We were hit a little earlier on with the overleveraging of real estate. And the market started to implode. Um, and the first thing to go was the prep school. You know, you can’t afford a $2,500 tuition at that point, right? So anyway, um, I left school, uh, four months to graduation.” When contacted, a spokesman for Horace Mann said there was no evidence George Santos ever attended the school. Additionally, the tuition at Horace Mann is about 20x higher than $2500. And we could not find any lies about him receiving a scholarship!
Santos claimed he graduated from Baruch College in 2010. However, Baruch could not find any records of him ever attending the school. Your correspondent also attended Baruch for a master’s degree at the time Santos purported to attend. You might be shocked to know that I never recalled seeing George around campus. Apparently, I was not the only one. A spokesperson for Baruch said the college could not find any record of him being there either.
The fact of the matter is that George Santos never graduated from high school, let alone college. (To be fair, a plethora of ineffective and dishonest lawmakers graduated from prestigious schools. There is not a causal relationship between attending a good school – or any school – and being a good policymaker.)
Mr. Santos claimed that he worked for Goldman Sachs and that he had the chutzpah to call out Goldman – his then-employer – at a private equity conference, called SALT. Santos bragged, “Have you ever heard of a Goldman Sachs employee take the stage at the largest private equity conference in the world – SALT, run by Anthony Scaramucci – and berate their employer? Well, I did that…And I did it in the fashion of renewable energy and global warming. This was the panel I was on. And they’re all talking about solar, wind, and this was back, what, seven years ago now? And I said, you know what, this is a scam. It’s taxpayer money that gets subsidized.”
These claims are completely fictitious. Goldman Sachs said they never employed George Santos. Anthony Scaramucci said Santos never even attended SALT, let alone sat on any panel. When asked about this, Santos said he meant to say that he did business with Goldman (and Citigroup) when he was employed at a firm called Link Bridge, but that he did not bother explaining that because it would go “over the American people’s head.” Here Santos not only blatantly lied but had the arrogance to brush off criticism by saying the American people are too dumb to understand what he really meant.
George Santos claimed that after graduating Baruch he was hired at Citigroup and worked his way up to “an associate asset manager” in the company’s real estate division. Citigroup disputes these claims. A representative for the bank said she had never even heard of that job title. Clearly Mr. Santos never had a job in asset management but does own a diverse portfolio of drivel.
George Santos claimed the attack on the World Trade Center took his mother’s life. A few months later he claimed his mother died of cancer, in 2016. It is possible that Santos’ mother contracted cancer from toxins released during the impact and collapse of the towers, however, there is no supportive evidence that she worked in or near ground zero during the attack. On one (of many) versions of his website, Santos claimed his mom worked in “finance.” According to employment records, her sole employer (in the United States) was an import/export company located in Queens that went bankrupt in the mid 1990’s.
This lie is particularly egregious. It is offensive to the men and women (and their families) who perished, and those who did contract cancer and other debilitating ailments from the noxious air particles released that day.
Friends of Pets United
Mr. Santos boasted about his philanthropy and the not-for-profit he founded in 2013 called Friends of Pets United. In one fundraiser for a NJ based animal rescue group, there was a raffle, drinks, a live band…and a $50 entry fee. The events’ beneficiary claimed she never received any of the funds and that Santos made excuses for not getting her the money. Furthermore, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) does not have a record of any charity registered under the name Friends of Pets United.
Amid all these fabrications, new questions have surfaced regarding how George Santos financed his campaign and if any funds were ill-gotten.
During his first (unsuccessful) run for office in 2020, Santos claimed zero assets and said he earned ~$55,000 annually at a business development firm called LinkBridge.
After Santos left LinkBridge, he landed at firm called Harbor City Capital. In 2021, the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) alleged that Harbor City orchestrated a multimillion-dollar Ponzi scam. Santos was not charged. He left Harbor City before the firm’s legal troubles. Then he incorporated his own firm, called Devolder Organization. (A few weeks after Santos left, the SEC filed formal charges against Harbor City.)
According to Santos, Devolder specialized in capital introduction, “deal building” and “specialty consulting” (See our last post entitled Word Salad) for wealthy clients. Santos claimed that within six months, he “landed a couple of million-dollar contracts” which translated into hefty dividends for himself; he was the sole employee. He also paid (himself) a salary of $750,000 per year. From these “earnings,” he loaned his campaign ~$700,000.
During his candidacy, Mr. Santos lived well. He bought his staff designer clothing, expensive meals, and racked up $40,000 in travel expenses. He spent ~$17,000 in Florida, odd for a candidate running in NY. On whose dime, we can only imagine.
Meanwhile, Devolder failed to file an annual report and in September of 2022, it was dissolved. Then, after the NYT ran the initial story questioning his credentials, Santos revived Devolder. The address listed: a property owned by a former Harbor City partner in Florida.
Par For The Course
Almost all politicians lie; it is basically a prerequisite for the job. The examples are countless; here are but a few:
For Donald Trump, being truthful was an abnormality.
Senator Rich Blumenthal (D-CT) lied about serving in Vietnam. “I served during the Vietnam War,” said Blumenthal ~15 years ago. Pay attention to the words in that phrase. Blumenthal said he served during the Vietnam war, not in the war. However, for years Blumenthal implied that he served in the war. He compounded his deceptive messaging by insinuating that he was insulted when he returned home from service (even though he never left). "I remember the taunts, the insults, sometimes even the physical abuse."
In reality, Blumenthal was deferred five times between 1965-1970. However, he did in fact serve in the military during the Vietnam war: for six years in the Marine Corps Reserve. According to the New York Times, his unit was tasked with fixing playgrounds and organizing toy drives for children.
Of course, lying about military service crosses party lines. Former Oregon Republican Congressman Wes Cooley (1932-2015) claimed he served in "Special Forces in Korea." That was a blatant lie. Mr. Cooley was never in the Special Forces, nor did he ever fight in any war.
Cooley’s propensity for lying went far and beyond military tales. In 2009 he was charged with money laundering and tax-evasion relating to an investment scam. He ended up serving a year in federal prison.
During his first presidential run in the 1980s President Joe Biden admitted to plagiarizing a paper in law school, embellishing his academic performance, using parts of a speech from a British politician named Neal Kinnock during a debate in Iowa, and passages verbatim from a speech by Robert Kennedy. Biden also claimed he earned a full scholarship to law school; this was untrue.
Now & Then
Politics has always been a cruel and calculating chess match. However, a stark difference between now and decades past is that at least then, there was sometimes an admission of guilt, shame, and calls for accountability from lawmakers of the same political ilk. Not always, but at least sometimes. Today, there rarely is.
In 1988, Joe Biden confessed to his falsifications and embellishments and withdrew his presidential candidacy. Clearly, to compare a then U.S. Senator running for president to a first time Congressman elect is not apples to apples. That said, the fact that more people are laughing about George Santos’ lies – OK, we concede some are perversely amusing - than are appalled by them, is an example of the gross degradation of American politics and perhaps, our own culture.
In our view, members of the GOP should neither stay silent nor deflect blame. To attract the thinning number of important independent voters, they should hold Santos to account, forcefully implore him to step aside and advocate for using every means available to take legal action. That would change people’s perceptions for the better.
Fortunately, a tiny minority of politicians are still willing to put American people over partisan politics. Former Ways & Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) said “This is troubling in so many ways. Certainly, he’s (Santos) lied repeatedly…He certainly is going to have to consider resigning.” We agree. The upshot and irony are that actions like these are not only ethically correct, but they are also smart political maneuvering.
We can only hope more politicians can understand and appreciate the merits of that.