A former fundraiser for Rep. George Santos pleaded guilty to wire fraud Tuesday in a Central Islip courtroom, becoming the second person linked to the embattled congressman’s campaign to admit to a federal crime.
Samuel Miele, 27, told U.S. District Judge Joanna Seybert that he had impersonated a top aide to a high-ranking congressional leader — identified as former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy — while soliciting a financial contribution to the Santos campaign from a donor in August 2021.
“I knew by doing this that I committed a crime,” Miele, of New York City, told the judge before he pleaded guilty to a single count of wire fraud.
Miele originally was charged in an indictment filed in August with four counts of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. The indictment did not identify the staffer Miele allegedly impersonated, but media outlets have reported that it was Dan Meyer, McCarthy’s former chief of staff.
WHAT TO KNOW
- A former fundraiser for Rep. George Santos pleaded guilty to wire fraud Tuesday in a Central Islip courtroom, becoming the second person linked to the embattled congressman’s campaign to admit to a federal crime.
- Samuel Miele, 27, told U.S. District Judge Joanna Seybert that he had impersonated a top aide to a high-ranking congressional leader — identified as former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy — while soliciting a financial contribution to the Santos campaign from a donor in August 2021.
- Miele faces up to 20 years in prison at sentencing on April 30.
Seybert ordered Miele to return to her courtroom on April 30 for sentencing. The top penalty for wire fraud is 20 years in prison, although he would most likely be sentenced to 27 to 33 months in prison under federal sentencing guidelines.
“He has acknowledged his wrongdoing,” said Miele’s attorney, Kevin Marino of Chatham, New Jersey. “He made a mistake. This is not the whole story of who Sam really is.”
Marino declined to say if Miele would cooperate with federal authorities prosecuting Santos, who is facing 23 felony counts, including wire fraud, money laundering and aggravated identity theft.
Prosecutors said Santos stole tens of thousands of dollars from donors, which he used to buy luxury goods and pay off personal debt. Santos, who represents parts of Queens and Nassau County, is accused of falsifying campaign filings and collecting unemployment when he was employed.
Santos is also accused of falsely reporting to the Federal Elections Commission that he had lent $500,000 to his campaign, although he had not actually donated any funds and his campaign had less than $8,000 in the bank. The fake loan was an attempt to convince Republican Party officials that he was a serious candidate worth financial support, according to the indictment.
Santos, identified during the Miele hearing and in Miele court documents as “Candidate #1,” has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Santos, declined to comment on the Miele case on Tuesday, but speaking at a virtual town hall on Tuesday, broadly touched on his legal woes.
"There's been a significant amount of media coverage on legal troubles that I'm facing, and I am going to be fighting those head on and I look forward to doing so," Santos said.
Joseph Murray, an attorney for Santos who attended Miele’s hearing, also declined to discuss how Miele’s guilty plea will impact his client. Earlier this month, Santos survived a vote to expel him from the House. Most Republicans and 31 Democrats opposed the measure while both his criminal case and a House Ethics Committee investigation proceeded.
In an interview with The Associated Press in August, Santos said he promptly fired Miele in late 2021 after being informed that Miele had impersonated Meyer. Santos also told the AP his campaign received a lunch invitation from a purported deep-pocketed donor named Reyem Nad — which is Dan Meyer spelled backward. The invitation, Santo said, was a veiled attempt by Miele to rejoin his campaign.
Miele acknowledged on Tuesday to charging more than $100,000 to credit cards of donors without authorization. Prosecutors said Miele sent that money to the Santos campaign and the campaigns of other candidates. He also used some of those funds for his personal use.
“The defendant used fraud and deceit to steal more than $100,000 from his victims, funneling this money into the campaign committees of candidates for the House, and into his own pockets,” Breon Peace, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said in a statement. “Defrauding potential political contributors undermines our democracy, and we will vigorously prosecute such conduct.”
Under his plea deal, Miele agreed to pay $109,171 in restitution and $69,136 in forfeiture. Miele also agreed to repay $470,000 he had solicited from an elderly donor.
The indictment stated Miele contacted more than a dozen potential contributors using the fake identity, with funds he received from the four individuals being sent through an intermediary service to the Santos campaign bank account in Suffolk County.
Miele allegedly sent Santos an email in September 2022 admitting to "faking my identity to a big donor,” according to the indictment.
The former treasurer for the Santos campaign also pleaded guilty last month to a fraud conspiracy charge, and implicated the congressman in a scheme to embellish campaign finance reports with the fake loan and fake donors.
Longtime Long Island political operative Nancy Marks, a close aide to Santos, said during her Oct. 5 court appearance in Central Islip that she intended to fool Republican Party officials in order to get financial support for Santos’ second run at a congressional seat.
With Laura Figueroa Hernandez