While investigations into George Santos continue, the congressman is embracing the spotlight where he once shunned it. Newsday White House correspondent Laura Figueroa looks at Santos' first three months in office. Credit: Newsday studio; Newsday archive

WASHINGTON — Three months after taking office, Rep. George Santos cannot evade what he and his staff call “the whispers.”

They're referring to the quiet chatter of people pointing out the embattled congressman as he walks through the halls of the U.S. Capitol — “Is that George Santos?”

Whispers may follow Santos (R-Nassau/Queens) as he confronts life in Congress as the subject of multiple investigations, but the first-term lawmaker is not quietly waiting them out as some Republican leaders had hoped.

He has rejected calls from protesters and Long Island Republican leaders to step down, and instead has seemingly embraced the limelight — trading verbal jabs with Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) at the State of the Union, appearing Tuesday outside Manhattan criminal court to support former President Donald Trump and signing onto controversial bills, including a proposal to make the AR-15 semiautomatic gun the “national gun.”

Speaking to Newsday at his congressional office in Washington, Santos said he believed in the First Amendment rights of those calling for his resignation — but “I also believe in the presumption of ‘innocent until proven guilty.’”

Santos continued: “I look very much forward to the investigations wrapping up on the House side and to be able to come out of it on the other side and show people that speculation is not fact."

Santos, 34, arrived on Capitol Hill on Jan. 3 after defeating Democrat Robert Zimmerman in the November general election in the Third Congressional District, which includes parts of Nassau County and Queens.

It was Santos' second run for the office — he lost to then-Democratic Rep. Tom Suozzi, of Glen Cove, in 2020 — and while he was not well known when he ran in 2022, he benefited from stronger-than-usual turnout among GOP voters.

A crush of media surrounded him on his first day in Congress, weeks after a New York Times story detailed how he had misled voters about his education, work experience and family background.

Since then, the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office, the House Ethics Committee and U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York reportedly have launched investigations into the lawmaker.

The office of state Attorney General Letitia James also has said it was “looking into a number of issues" surrounding Santos. 

As more information about Santos’ background has emerged, just as many questions seem to crop up.

Unlike most members of Congress, Santos has not disclosed where he lives.

He told Newsday he lives in the Queens part of his district, but would not provide more details because of security concerns.

"I have chosen not to make my address public, not for transparency purposes, but more so for safety," Santos said. "Death threats are a common occurrence these days.”

House lawmakers are not required to live in the district they represent, only the state, but questions about Santos’ living arrangements persist.

In late December, Santos was photographed by the New York Post moving some belongings into his sister Tiffany Devolder’s apartment in Elmhurst, Queens.

A month later, she vacated the unit after having received an eviction notice nine months earlier for not paying rent, according to Queens County Civil Court records. Devolder settled with the landlord in February, agreeing to pay $19,500 in rent.

Santos told the New York Post in December he was living at the time in Huntington.

Santos’ 2022 campaign filings show he paid a total of $10,900 for “apartment rental for staff” to a company called Cleaner 123 with a Huntington address.

Rent on the modest two-bedroom, two-bathroom house -- located at the same address as the company -- was paid by the campaign from June to September 2022, according to campaign finance records.

Neighbors interviewed by Newsday in January said they recalled seeing Santos move in around August and move out at the beginning of January.

Santos' voter registration record as of late March still listed a Whitestone, Queens, address that the landlord has said he vacated in August.

On Dec. 28, Nassau County District Attorney Anne Donnelly became the first law enforcement official to announce an investigation into Santos.

Donnelly, a Republican, remarked that “the numerous fabrications and inconsistencies associated with Congressman-elect Santos are nothing short of stunning.”

Donnelly did not disclose the exact nature of the investigation.

In March, The New York Times reported Donnelly’s office was working with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District and the FBI to examine Santos’ business dealings through his namesake company, the Devolder Organization.

Joel Weiss, a former Nassau County prosecutor who served as chief of the commercial frauds and rackets bureaus, told Newsday he could not predict how long it will take for an investigation into Santos to conclude.

“As a general matter, financial investigations are slow” because it can take weeks and months to secure documents from banks and financial firms, Weiss noted.

“If the U.S. Attorney’s Office and Nassau DA are working together, that’s a very good thing, and the reason it's a very good thing is you don't have competition between prosecutors,” said Weiss, a criminal-defense attorney for the Uniondale-based firm Farrell Fritz. “They're sharing intelligence that they've gathered, and you have the tools of both systems.”

Randall Eliason, a former federal prosecutor who led the public corruption unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington, said a financial investigation into a politician “could take a year or more.”

Eliason told Newsday in an email, “it just takes a long time to subpoena, assemble and go through all the records and get all the relevant witnesses into the grand jury.”

The House Ethics Committee on March 2 launched an investigation into Santos, saying a subcommittee of lawmakers would look at various issues, including whether he “engaged in unlawful activity with respect to his 2022 congressional campaign.”

In January, the Federal Election Commission received a formal complaint from the Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit government watchdog group, asking the agency to investigate Santos’ finances.

An FEC spokesman has declined to comment.

On Jan. 27, The Washington Post reported the U.S. Justice Department had asked the FEC to hold off on any enforcement action against Santos, and to provide the department with all relevant documents, signaling the likelihood of a Justice Department investigation.

Santos declined to comment about the probes.

He said the Ethics Committee is the only body that has reached out directly to him and his attorney, Joe Murray.

Santos said he would “100%” cooperate with investigators.

“A lot of things have been twisted and turned way out of proportion,” Santos said.

“Putting blame monumentally on me, when in fact most people who have ever run for office or are elected members of office know how a congressional campaign works and know that the last person to go near any report or anything is the candidate,” he told Newsday.

Santos’ longtime campaign treasurer, Nancy Marks, resigned in January, according to a filing submitted to the FEC. She has not responded to interview requests from Newsday and other news outlets.

Santos since has listed Andrew Olson as his campaign treasurer.

But little is known about his background.

He has not served as campaign treasurer for other state or federal campaigns, and he only lists a Washington post office box as his address on Santos’ filings.

The Nassau district attorney’s office, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the House Ethics Committee all declined requests for comment.

Santos’ campaign filed paperwork with the FEC in March to keep his Devolder-Santos for Congress campaign account active for the 2024 election.

That spurred questions about whether Santos was indeed considering running again.

Nassau GOP leaders have said they will never endorse him again, and a Newsday/Siena College poll released Jan. 31 found 78% of registered voters in the Third District said he should resign.

“I haven’t made up my mind yet,” Santos told Newsday.

On Monday, Kellen Curry, a military veteran and business executive, announced a primary challenge against Santos.

Santos said he has no plans to resign, and insists he is focused on district issues.

He noted that the first bill he filed would raise the Trump-era state and local tax deduction (SALT) cap from $10,000 to $50,000. Similar efforts have found little traction in previous years.

Santos said he also is working to secure funding through the House appropriations process for local needs such as water infrastructure projects in Farmingdale, Great Neck and Port Washington. 

“I also care about the airplane noise that plagues the people from New Hyde Park and East Hills,” Santos said.

He recently tweeted a photo of a meeting he held with local Federal Aviation Administration officials at his district office in Douglaston, Queens.

Santos, however, has recused himself from the two House committees he was assigned to — Small Business and Science — saying he didn't want to be a distraction, and would return once he cleared his name through the House ethics process.

Constituents have argued Santos' absence leaves them with no representation on any House committees.

George Anthony Devolder Santos is the son of Brazilian immigrants — Fatima Alzira Caruso Devolder, who died of cancer in December 2016, and Gercino "Junior” Dos Santos. Genealogical records and immigration records that have surfaced since January paint a different portrait of Santos’ family history than the one he touted when he was running for Congress.

On the campaign trail, Santos billed himself as the descendant of Jewish grandparents who fled Belgium for Brazil and survived the Holocaust.

But immigration records for his mother show her parents were born in Brazil, not Europe.

The records were provided to Newsday and other news outlets by Alex Calzareth, a Manhattan-based genealogist who obtained them through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Santos has said his mother was working in the south tower of the World Trade Center at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and had “worked her way up to be the first female executive at a major financial institution.”

Immigration records show Santos' mother entered the United States in 1985 on an S1-Visa typically granted to foreign workers.

The records show she started out as a farmworker, picking beans and squash in southern Miami-Dade County from October 1985 to March 1986.

She eventually moved to New York, working as a housekeeper and home health aide at a residence on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, according to records.

Records show Fatima Devolder left the United States for Brazil in 1999 and did not reenter the United States until 2003.

Asked whether his mother was indeed in New York on Sept. 11, 2001, Santos, who was 13 at the time of the terrorist attacks, has said in interviews with other news outlets that his mother was in the United States and he cannot account for what the records show.

“I won't debate my mother's life,” Santos told British television interviewer Piers Morgan when pressed about the 9/11 claims during a February interview.

Santos has said he was born July 22, 1988 in Elmhurst Hospital in Queens.

Asked for confirmation of Santos' birth, a spokeswoman for New York City Health & Hospitals, which operates Elmhurst, told Newsday the agency “cannot disclose patient information."

With John Asbury and Scott Eidler

WASHINGTON — Three months after taking office, Rep. George Santos cannot evade what he and his staff call “the whispers.”

They're referring to the quiet chatter of people pointing out the embattled congressman as he walks through the halls of the U.S. Capitol — “Is that George Santos?”

Whispers may follow Santos (R-Nassau/Queens) as he confronts life in Congress as the subject of multiple investigations, but the first-term lawmaker is not quietly waiting them out as some Republican leaders had hoped.

He has rejected calls from protesters and Long Island Republican leaders to step down, and instead has seemingly embraced the limelight — trading verbal jabs with Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) at the State of the Union, appearing Tuesday outside Manhattan criminal court to support former President Donald Trump and signing onto controversial bills, including a proposal to make the AR-15 semiautomatic gun the “national gun.”

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Three months after Rep. George Santos took office, questions linger about everything from his life story to where he lives.
  • Santos continues to make high-profile public appearances, including at a rally outside Manhattan criminal court Tuesday to support Donald Trump.
  • Santos won't say whether he'll seek reelection in 2024, but says he won't resign from his House seat.

Speaking to Newsday at his congressional office in Washington, Santos said he believed in the First Amendment rights of those calling for his resignation — but “I also believe in the presumption of ‘innocent until proven guilty.’”

Santos continued: “I look very much forward to the investigations wrapping up on the House side and to be able to come out of it on the other side and show people that speculation is not fact."

Santos, 34, arrived on Capitol Hill on Jan. 3 after defeating Democrat Robert Zimmerman in the November general election in the Third Congressional District, which includes parts of Nassau County and Queens.

It was Santos' second run for the office — he lost to then-Democratic Rep. Tom Suozzi, of Glen Cove, in 2020 — and while he was not well known when he ran in 2022, he benefited from stronger-than-usual turnout among GOP voters.

A crush of media surrounded him on his first day in Congress, weeks after a New York Times story detailed how he had misled voters about his education, work experience and family background.

Since then, the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office, the House Ethics Committee and U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York reportedly have launched investigations into the lawmaker.

The office of state Attorney General Letitia James also has said it was “looking into a number of issues" surrounding Santos. 

As more information about Santos’ background has emerged, just as many questions seem to crop up.

Where does he live?

Unlike most members of Congress, Santos has not disclosed where he lives.

He told Newsday he lives in the Queens part of his district, but would not provide more details because of security concerns.

"I have chosen not to make my address public, not for transparency purposes, but more so for safety," Santos said. "Death threats are a common occurrence these days.”

House lawmakers are not required to live in the district they represent, only the state, but questions about Santos’ living arrangements persist.

In late December, Santos was photographed by the New York Post moving some belongings into his sister Tiffany Devolder’s apartment in Elmhurst, Queens.

A month later, she vacated the unit after having received an eviction notice nine months earlier for not paying rent, according to Queens County Civil Court records. Devolder settled with the landlord in February, agreeing to pay $19,500 in rent.

Santos told the New York Post in December he was living at the time in Huntington.

Santos’ 2022 campaign filings show he paid a total of $10,900 for “apartment rental for staff” to a company called Cleaner 123 with a Huntington address.

Rent on the modest two-bedroom, two-bathroom house -- located at the same address as the company -- was paid by the campaign from June to September 2022, according to campaign finance records.

Neighbors interviewed by Newsday in January said they recalled seeing Santos move in around August and move out at the beginning of January.

Santos' voter registration record as of late March still listed a Whitestone, Queens, address that the landlord has said he vacated in August.

Status of investigations

On Dec. 28, Nassau County District Attorney Anne Donnelly became the first law enforcement official to announce an investigation into Santos.

Donnelly, a Republican, remarked that “the numerous fabrications and inconsistencies associated with Congressman-elect Santos are nothing short of stunning.”

Donnelly did not disclose the exact nature of the investigation.

In March, The New York Times reported Donnelly’s office was working with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District and the FBI to examine Santos’ business dealings through his namesake company, the Devolder Organization.

Joel Weiss, a former Nassau County prosecutor who served as chief of the commercial frauds and rackets bureaus, told Newsday he could not predict how long it will take for an investigation into Santos to conclude.

“As a general matter, financial investigations are slow” because it can take weeks and months to secure documents from banks and financial firms, Weiss noted.

“If the U.S. Attorney’s Office and Nassau DA are working together, that’s a very good thing, and the reason it's a very good thing is you don't have competition between prosecutors,” said Weiss, a criminal-defense attorney for the Uniondale-based firm Farrell Fritz. “They're sharing intelligence that they've gathered, and you have the tools of both systems.”

Randall Eliason, a former federal prosecutor who led the public corruption unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington, said a financial investigation into a politician “could take a year or more.”

Eliason told Newsday in an email, “it just takes a long time to subpoena, assemble and go through all the records and get all the relevant witnesses into the grand jury.”

The House Ethics Committee on March 2 launched an investigation into Santos, saying a subcommittee of lawmakers would look at various issues, including whether he “engaged in unlawful activity with respect to his 2022 congressional campaign.”

In January, the Federal Election Commission received a formal complaint from the Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit government watchdog group, asking the agency to investigate Santos’ finances.

An FEC spokesman has declined to comment.

On Jan. 27, The Washington Post reported the U.S. Justice Department had asked the FEC to hold off on any enforcement action against Santos, and to provide the department with all relevant documents, signaling the likelihood of a Justice Department investigation.

Santos declined to comment about the probes.

He said the Ethics Committee is the only body that has reached out directly to him and his attorney, Joe Murray.

Santos said he would “100%” cooperate with investigators.

“A lot of things have been twisted and turned way out of proportion,” Santos said.

“Putting blame monumentally on me, when in fact most people who have ever run for office or are elected members of office know how a congressional campaign works and know that the last person to go near any report or anything is the candidate,” he told Newsday.

Santos’ longtime campaign treasurer, Nancy Marks, resigned in January, according to a filing submitted to the FEC. She has not responded to interview requests from Newsday and other news outlets.

Santos since has listed Andrew Olson as his campaign treasurer.

But little is known about his background.

He has not served as campaign treasurer for other state or federal campaigns, and he only lists a Washington post office box as his address on Santos’ filings.

The Nassau district attorney’s office, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the House Ethics Committee all declined requests for comment.

Is Santos running for reelection?

Santos’ campaign filed paperwork with the FEC in March to keep his Devolder-Santos for Congress campaign account active for the 2024 election.

That spurred questions about whether Santos was indeed considering running again.

Nassau GOP leaders have said they will never endorse him again, and a Newsday/Siena College poll released Jan. 31 found 78% of registered voters in the Third District said he should resign.

“I haven’t made up my mind yet,” Santos told Newsday.

On Monday, Kellen Curry, a military veteran and business executive, announced a primary challenge against Santos.

Santos said he has no plans to resign, and insists he is focused on district issues.

He noted that the first bill he filed would raise the Trump-era state and local tax deduction (SALT) cap from $10,000 to $50,000. Similar efforts have found little traction in previous years.

Santos said he also is working to secure funding through the House appropriations process for local needs such as water infrastructure projects in Farmingdale, Great Neck and Port Washington. 

“I also care about the airplane noise that plagues the people from New Hyde Park and East Hills,” Santos said.

He recently tweeted a photo of a meeting he held with local Federal Aviation Administration officials at his district office in Douglaston, Queens.

Santos, however, has recused himself from the two House committees he was assigned to — Small Business and Science — saying he didn't want to be a distraction, and would return once he cleared his name through the House ethics process.

Constituents have argued Santos' absence leaves them with no representation on any House committees.

What do we know about Santos' family story?

George Anthony Devolder Santos is the son of Brazilian immigrants — Fatima Alzira Caruso Devolder, who died of cancer in December 2016, and Gercino "Junior” Dos Santos. Genealogical records and immigration records that have surfaced since January paint a different portrait of Santos’ family history than the one he touted when he was running for Congress.

On the campaign trail, Santos billed himself as the descendant of Jewish grandparents who fled Belgium for Brazil and survived the Holocaust.

But immigration records for his mother show her parents were born in Brazil, not Europe.

The records were provided to Newsday and other news outlets by Alex Calzareth, a Manhattan-based genealogist who obtained them through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Santos has said his mother was working in the south tower of the World Trade Center at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and had “worked her way up to be the first female executive at a major financial institution.”

Immigration records show Santos' mother entered the United States in 1985 on an S1-Visa typically granted to foreign workers.

The records show she started out as a farmworker, picking beans and squash in southern Miami-Dade County from October 1985 to March 1986.

She eventually moved to New York, working as a housekeeper and home health aide at a residence on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, according to records.

Records show Fatima Devolder left the United States for Brazil in 1999 and did not reenter the United States until 2003.

Asked whether his mother was indeed in New York on Sept. 11, 2001, Santos, who was 13 at the time of the terrorist attacks, has said in interviews with other news outlets that his mother was in the United States and he cannot account for what the records show.

“I won't debate my mother's life,” Santos told British television interviewer Piers Morgan when pressed about the 9/11 claims during a February interview.

Santos has said he was born July 22, 1988 in Elmhurst Hospital in Queens.

Asked for confirmation of Santos' birth, a spokeswoman for New York City Health & Hospitals, which operates Elmhurst, told Newsday the agency “cannot disclose patient information."

With John Asbury and Scott Eidler

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