Monday, 22 Apr 2024

Santos is not just a co-sponsor of an unemployment fraud bill. He’s a target.

House Republicans have made rooting out unemployment fraud during the pandemic a legislative priority. Little did they know that one of the bill’s co-sponsors, Representative George Santos, would become a high-profile target.

In a 13-count federal indictment unsealed on Wednesday, Mr. Santos, a Republican of New York, was accused of carrying out a scheme to fraudulently obtain unemployment benefits made available during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.

Mr. Santos, who has not commented publicly on the charges against him, is currently one of 35 co-sponsors on a House bill that would help states recover fraudulent pandemic unemployment payments.

According to the indictment, Mr. Santos applied in June 2020 to New York State’s Labor Department in order to receive unemployment insurance benefits that were funded in part by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act.

Through April 2021, Mr. Santos certified “on a weekly basis” that he was eligible to continue receiving unemployment benefits, the indictment said. Ultimately, he received more than $24,000 in unemployment payments.

But prosecutors said that Mr. Santos was employed throughout that period, working as a regional director for a Florida-based investment firm that paid him approximately $120,000 a year.

The firm, not identified in the indictment, was Harbor City Capital, which the Securities and Exchange Commission later accused of being a Ponzi scheme. (Mr. Santos has not been implicated in court documents in that case.)

House Republican leaders on Wednesday morning said that Mr. Santos was entitled to due process and should be considered innocent until proven guilty.

At the same time, Representative Elise Stefanik, Republican of New York and the conference chair, said that her party was more concerned with rooting out “any fraud when it comes to unemployment pandemic assistance” than with Mr. Santos’s indictment.

Annie Karni contributed reporting from Washington.

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