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George Santos
Republican congressman George Santos, in and out of dragThe Young Turks

George Santos: a rolling list of lies from America’s new queen of scamming

From allegedly defrauding a dog with cancer to performing as a drag queen, the Republican Congressman has been embroiled in a shocking array of controversies

When I was seven, a friend of mine bragged that he’d been scouted to star in a major film adaptation of The Legend of Zelda, and would soon be relocating to Los Angeles to begin production. Even though I was reasonably confident this wasn’t true, I still felt a twinge of jealousy – it should have been me. Most of us will have told lies like this when we were younger, and probably still lie in our daily lives for all sorts of reasons; to get ourselves out of trouble at work or to spare the feelings of a loved one, in response to questions like ‘would people pay to read my Substack?’ and ‘what do you think of my new Basquiat crown tattoo?’ But there’s something compelling about the true compulsive liar, someone who never grew out of those childish fantasies.

Republican congressman George Santos, who has recently been exposed for a truly shocking array of falsehoods, has quickly become the world’s most notorious liar. When he built his campaign around the idea that he was “the embodiment of the American Dream”, he was right in a way that he didn’t intend. The US has always loved a con man, and – from PT Barnum to The Talented Mr Ripley to Anna Delvey – there is a long cultural tradition of the scammer as a folk hero. We can cheer on deception like this as a form of class warfare: if you didn’t enjoy the benefits of an elite education or a vast trust fund, you can simply pretend otherwise and claim a facsimile of the privilege you were denied. In recent years, “fake it till you make it” has become a Silicon Valley credo, and it’s hard to think of someone who personifies this phrase more than George Santos.

But before we start lauding Santos as an American anti-hero, let’s be clear that we are talking about someone who has close links to the far-right of the Republican party, described police brutality as a “made-up concept” and likened abortion to slavery. He deserves whatever comeuppance comes his way. But as it stands, it’s not clear whether he will face any real consequences: for while a number of his fellow Republican New York congressmen have demanded he resign, he still has the backing of the party apparatus. This is mostly because the Republicans have such a slim minority in the House of Congress that, however much of a liability Santos might be, getting rid of him would tip the scales of power in favour of the Democrats. 

This man has been embroiled in so many controversies that it’s beyond the scope of this article to list them all comprehensively; he leaves behind a long trail of evictions, unpaid fines, Ponzi schemes, financial scams (many of which are, in all honesty, quite boring) and legal troubles, including an early indictment for chequebook fraud in Brazil. But here is a run-down of Santo’s greatest hits.

HE LIED ON HIS CV

During his campaign to become elected Congressman for a district in Queens in 2022, questions were raised about the veracity of his CV. In fact, his own campaign team – having run a background check – begged him to resign (he refused). Despite various efforts made to draw the attention of national media outlets, none of them bothered to investigate these allegations and it wasn’t until after his victory that the truth became widely known.

He reportedly lied about going to college, about working at Goldman Sachs and CitiBank, about being the vice president of a company for which he was really a freelance contractor. During a recent television interview, he suggested that whether his claims be classed as lies was “debatable” and that the nature of his work would require a “discussion that can go way above the American people’s head”. Getting caught out in a lie and then insinuating it’s because you were working for the security services is undeniably a smooth move.

HE WAS A DRAG QUEEN BUT – AND THIS IS IMPORTANT – HE DIDN’T “PERFORM” AS A DRAG QUEEN

There is nothing wrong with being a drag queen. But if you’re a congressman for a party which is currently waging a full-scale culture war against drag, it does leave you open to the charge of hypocrisy. Last week, it was revealed that when Santos lived in Brazil, he reportedly had a drag persona named Kitara Rivache. Not only did photos of him in drag emerge online, but two former acquaintances claimed that he used to participate in drag competitions. In response, Santos issued a partial denial on Twitter (note the careful use of the word ‘performed’): “The most recent obsession from the media claiming that I am a drag queen or ‘performed’ as a drag queen is categorically false.”

While he started off denying the charges on a technicality (he wasn’t a professional), he later admitted that the photos were him, telling reporters: “No, I was not a drag queen in Brazil, guys. I was young and I had fun at a festival. Sue me for having a life.” 

This would be a perfectly fine response, were it not for the fact that Santos is still supporting anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and fuelling a political climate in which drag queens are regularly being threatened and attacked. We should respect Santos’s right to enjoy a little cross-dressing fun without being shamed. But if you ask us, collaborating with the far-right is not very “slay the house down boots”. Okuurrrrrr?

HE ALLEGEDLY STOLE MONEY FROM A DOG WITH A TUMOUR

Santos claimed to run a tax-exempt pet rescue charity called Friends of Pets United (FPU). Who could object to such a worthy mission? We all love our pets – and sometimes, sadly, they are in need of rescue. But alarm bells first rang when the Inland Revenue Service (responsible for regulating charities) announced that it had no records whatsoever of Santos’s project.

If he was simply an unregulated pet vigilante, rescuing cats and dogs without bureaucratic oversight and getting the job, that would be one thing. But a number of more disturbing allegations came to the fore this January. In 2017, the charity held a fundraiser event in New Jersey charging $50 dollars a head. According to the New York Times, the intended beneficiary never saw a penny of the proceeds and, upon objecting to this, received a series of unconvincing excuses.

It gets worse. In 2016, a retired Navy veteran and police officer named Richard Osthoff contacted FPU because his beloved service dog had a stomach tumour; he was homeless at the time, feeling suicidal and could not afford the $3,000 cost of life-saving surgery. The charity launched a GoFundMe appeal, exceeded the target, withdrew the money – and then ghosted Osthoff, whose dog went on to die in January 2017. When Osthoff eventually managed to contact Santos, he claimed that the dog was “not a good candidate for the surgery” (contradicting what Osthoff had been told by veterinarians) and the funds were moved onto a different animal in need. Santos has denied the allegations, claiming they are “shocking and insane”. 

HE LIED ABOUT A NUMBER OF FAMILY TRAGEDIES

Of all the falsehoods this man has told, this one feels the most pathological. It’s an appeal to sympathy, of course, which probably comes in handy when you’re running an election campaign. But at the same time, it just seems pointless, unnecessary and brazenly falsifiable, stretching beyond any purely cynical motivation. The man simply loves to lie!

Nor was this a random slip-of-of-the tongue: Santos has repeatedly claimed that on September 11, his mum was working in the South Tower, and died from cancer as a direct result of being caught in an ash cloud (a sadly common occurrence for 9/11 survivors and first responders). But immigration records since showed that she wasn’t even living in the country at the time, never mind being in New York. Even after the truth came out, he didn’t comment or change his story. Similarly, he claimed that his maternal grandparents were refugees who fled the Holocaust, which was later shown to be false: they were both born in Brazil. This revelation, among other claims that he lied about being Jewish, led to the Republican Jewish Coalition barring him from future events.

I feel sorry for compulsive liars, because even in the most brazen instances of someone ‘making stuff up for attention’, it usually suggests that something is wrong. But it would be easier to sympathise with Santos if he wasn’t wholeheartedly supporting the most poisonous forces in America. Beyond all questions of morality, he simply lacks the panache and intelligence to be admired as a con man. He is no cunning Tom Ripley, no glamorous Anna Delvey. His life might be a bizarre act of self-invention, but his worldview is as boring in is cruelty as any other right-wing buffoon.

HE HAS ALLEGEDLY PERPETRATED A CREDIT CARD SCAM

UPDATE (10/03/2023): The hustle never stops, and neither does the string of allegations against Governor George Santos. In what might prove to be his zaniest get-rich-quick-scheme yet, Santos has been accused of stealing information from ATMs and credit cards.

Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. Everyone has committed a spot of light-hearted credit card fraud from time to time: we have all crept into the cloakroom at a house party, rifled through someone’s bag while glancing nervously at the door, stolen a purse and then used contactless to buy Peach Ice Elf Bars. But according to a former roommate, this was a rather more elaborate operation: Santos was putting ‘skimming’ devices and cameras on ATMs, and then using the information to clone credit cards. If true, this was no bumbling opportunism, but the work of a sophisticated scammer. If nothing else, we should applaud his technical expertise and commitment to the bit. The government are wasting his talents if they don’t employ him as a Hannibal Lecter-style consultant on cracking down fraud. 

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