Family members of indicted congressman George Santos guaranteed his $500,000 bail in his wire fraud and money laundering case, it was revealed Friday in Santos' appeal of a judge’s ruling to make public the names of the guarantors.
In an appeal filed Friday morning, Santos’ attorney, Joseph Murray, attacked federal Magistrate Judge Anne Y. Shields’ order unsealing the identities, in which the judge sided with news agencies, including Newsday.
"Defendant has essentially publicly revealed that the suretors are family members and not lobbyists, donors or others seeking to exert influence over the Defendant, contrary to Judge Shields' assertion that, '[t]here is no way to quell such speculation and foster confidence in the judicial process but to reveal the identities of the Suretors,' " Murray wrote in his appeal, citing a letter he wrote to the House Ethics Committee after it inquired about the identities of the suretors.
Murray, who argued the guarantors would be subject to "attacks and harassment" if their names were revealed, offered what he called "a more palatable remedy that satisfies the interests of both sides" to provide the bond documents, but with the names redacted. Murray said family members are exempt from the prohibitions on gifts to members of Congress.
"To the extent that it may be possible to unredact a portion of the sealed judicial bond records or proceedings to reveal the existence of a “family” relationship between Defendant and suretors without identifying the name or type of family member, Defendant would have no objection," Murray wrote.
Lawyers for Newsday and other news agencies have argued the names of the guarantors are public records. The government has taken no position on the issue.
The appeal on the identity issue in now in front of U.S. District Court Judge Joanna Seybert, who is presiding over Santos' criminal case and is expected to make a ruling on Santos' motion.
Murray also argued the suretors serve "a vital law enforcement and judicial function" as the "first line of enforcement" in monitoring the whereabouts of defendants and said that ability would be imperiled if their identities were revealed. Already, Murray said, a third suretor dropped out of the case due to media attention.
"The resulting media frenzy, greatly contributed to our third prospective suretor having a change of heart and withdrawing," said Murray. "There is great concern for the health, safety, and well-being of our two suretors, which sadly, was not shared by Judge Shields, at least as a factor of their privacy concerns."
The Republican first-term congressman allegedly orchestrated a series of schemes while running for Congress, including ripping off political donors, fraudulently receiving unemployment benefits authorized under COVID-19 even though he had a job, and lying on his congressional financial disclosure forms, prosecutors said.
Santos, who was already under fire for admittedly lying about much of his resume and personal details, pleaded not guilty at his May 10 arraignment in federal court in Central Islip to seven counts of wire fraud, three counts of money laundering, one count of theft of public funds, and two counts of making materially false statements to the House of Representatives as part of schemes prosecutors said began in 2020.
Santos (R-Nassau/Queens) faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison on the top counts if convicted and the potential forfeiture of his assets.
Santos has ignored calls to resign and has announced he is seeking reelection.
Murray, in his appeal, said Santos has been the subject of "hateful attacks" that have been "extremely angry, anti-gay, anti-Republican and all around anti-social" and shed light on how the government helped Santos avoid reporters outside the courthouse before he was arraigned.
"On the morning of May 10, 2023, as the media began to amass outside of the Courthouse, I received a call from AUSA Harris who kindly offered the services of our FBI case agents to arrange for an alternative means for my client to enter the Courthouse," Murray wrote. "Even the government recognizes the unique and potentially dangerous/harassing environment that Defendant has been subjected to in that the government was so kind to offer assistance for Defendant entering the courthouse on May 10, 2023, by avoiding the mass of media that had appeared at the courthouse.
Murray continued: "It is reasonable to conclude that if Defendant’s suretors are identified, that the attacks and harassment will commence against them too. Moreover, given the political temperature in this Country and acts of political violence that occur, the privacy interests of these suretors are far more concerning, especially considering their ages and respective employment."