George Santos speaks on election night at Il Bacco Ristorante in...

George Santos speaks on election night at Il Bacco Ristorante in Queens. Credit: Howard Simmons

This story was reported by Paul LaRocco, Scott Eidler and Candice Ferrette. It was written by LaRocco and Eidler.

 

With $70,000 in seed money, a political action committee named Rise NY launched in early 2021 and began blanketing social media with posts about its efforts to register new Republican voters in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

Scott Presler, a conservative activist with 1.3 million Twitter followers, was the public face. The PAC boasted of registering some 7,100 new GOP voters in New York State in 90 days.

Donations to Rise NY, ultimately totaling more than $430,000, came in from 37 states.

“Guys, was it easy? Was it fun? Did we grow the Republican Party?” Presler proclaimed cheerily in an August 2021 Instagram video. “That means if we can do it, you can do it, too!”

Unmentioned in that clip or any other posts by Rise NY was George Santos, and his deep involvement in the PAC's operations.

A Newsday examination of state campaign finance filings shows that of the $450,000 spent by Rise NY over a two-year period, about $365,000 went for salaries, consultants' fees and other unspecified payments to associates of Santos, a Republican who in November was elected to represent the 3rd Congressional District in Nassau and Queens, as well as hotels, meals and airline flights and large transfers to local GOP committees.

Recipients of its payments included Santos' sister, Tiffany Lee Devolder Santos; the candidate's campaign treasurer, Nancy Marks; and Santos' landlord at a building where he lived in Whitestone, Queens, state records show.

Only $2,000 was described as supporting "materials and services" for voter registration efforts, according to filings with the state Board of Elections.

The expenditures to the Nassau GOP — $62,500 each to the county and Hempstead Town committees — came on Sept. 13, 2021. 

Joseph Cairo, Nassau Republican chairman, recalled that Santos personally handed him the two checks from Rise NY when he visited GOP headquarters in Westbury.

Cairo said Santos — who had lost his 2020 bid to unseat then-Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) and was gearing up to run again in 2022 — told him the money he was contributing from Rise NY was raised “through his business contacts [and] that he managed millions of dollars of people's money.”

Cairo said Santos told him “he had met very wealthy people who believed philosophically as he did, and that he raised money from them through various entities, and [Rise] was one of them.”

“I thought, ‘This is for next year. He wants to run again … He's looking to curry favor to get the nomination,’” Cairo told Newsday.

The GOP committees returned the Rise NY contributions on Jan. 11, according to the PAC's latest reports filed with the state Board of Elections.

That day, Nassau Republican leaders called on Santos, who defeated Democrat Robert Zimmerman last year, to resign, weeks after revelations that he fabricated much of his personal back story, including his religion, education and work history. 

Santos, 34, is the subject of county, state and federal probes into his campaign finances.

Neither George Santos nor Tiffany Santos responded to requests for comment for this story.

The Rise NY PAC formed with the state Board of Elections on Dec. 14, 2020.

Incorporation papers listed Tiffany Lee Devolder Santos as the sole person with "operational control over the PAC," and Marks was listed as treasurer.

Marks, a Shirley campaign consultant, also served as treasurer for Santos' federal campaign committees.

Rise NY began fundraising in early 2021, shortly after Santos halted fundraising through a federal "recount" committee that raised money to challenge his 2020 loss. 

Its websites have been deleted, but Instagram posts tell the story of an operation that began primarily with posts of political memes.

Soon, they were featuring Presler prominently.

Presler, a 34-year-old Virginia resident who attracted attention in 2016 as an early LGBTQ Trump backer, received $5,000 from Rise NY in June 2021 and $750 last April for serving as a “brand ambassador,” the PAC's posts and state campaign filings show.

Presler’s public comments on Rise NY social media pages focused primarily on boosting GOP representation in local government. He did not mention Santos.

“We are coming for the school boards, we are coming for the city councils, we are coming for the mayorships, we are coming for the sheriffs, we are coming for DA's … ,” Presler said during an October 2021 event at the “America First Warehouse” in Ronkonkoma.

Presler did not respond to requests for comment.

Rise NY held several fundraisers and voter registration drives across Long Island. In March 2022, volunteers seeking to register voters at a gas station in Manhasset held signs reading, "Pain at the Pump? Vote Republican."

One 2021 Rise NY flyer advertised a $250-per-person “flash fundraiser birthday party” for Presler at Il Bacco Ristorante in Little Neck, Queens.

Another touted a pool party on Memorial Day in Westhampton Beach.

Hosts of the Il Bacco event were listed as Joanne Zervos, an attorney who shares the same contribution address as John Maguire, who was paid more than $12,000 in wages by the PAC, and Syosset accounting firm executive Charles Vallone and his wife, Susan.

Zervos contributed a total of $17,250 to Rise NY over two years, according to the PAC's state filings.

The Vallones contributed a total of more than $80,000 to all Santos-tied committees during the 2022 congressional election cycle. 

There are no limits on the amount individuals can contribute to a state political action committee.

Newsday's review of two years' worth of Rise NY's campaign finance filings, as well as interviews with donors and Nassau GOP leaders, show how Santos used the PAC to tap into a network of wealthy donors and grassroots organizers.

A person with knowledge of Santos' campaign operations said Santos' role with Rise NY primarily involved making “introductions” between large donors and Tiffany Santos.

Then he would “step back,” said the source, who declined to be identified in order to speak about internal Santos campaign information.

Several small donors to Rise NY told Newsday they had no idea Santos was involved with the PAC.

“Knowing that he could lie about so many things, I would not have given,” Deane Berson, 79, a psychiatrist from Cascade, Colorado, who contributed $54 on Oct. 2, 2022, told Newsday.

Berson said he thought the PAC was trying to “register minority conservatives.” 

According to state campaign finance records, Robin Newberger, of Yonkers, contributed 25 $10 donations to Rise NY in 2021.

After a Newsday reporter recited the contributions Rise NY attributed to her, Newberger said she had no record of donating to the PAC.

“As far as this PAC is concerned, I only give money to causes that are conservative, or conservative groups, like a specific conservative or a group of conservatives," Newberger said.

“Complete crook,” Newberger said of Santos.

Rise NY received 307 donations ranging from $1 to $100 each, according to state reports.

But the PAC drew most of its money from only two people:

Manhattan financier Andrew Intrater, a business associate of Santos, who contributed a total of $175,000, including $50,000 that represented one of the PAC's first contributions, , Robert Mangi, of the Garden City insurance agency Northeast Coverages, gave $150,000 on Sept, 10, 2021, three days before Santos delivered the $125,000 in contributions from Rise NY to Nassau GOP chairman Cairo, .

Intrater, who manages money for his cousin, the Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, did not respond to multiple requests for comment. 

Through a spokesman, Mangi declined to comment specifically about his contribution to Rise NY.

In a statement for a Newsday story last week about Santos' campaign fundraising, Mangi called Santos a “fraud" and said "donors on all sides of the political aisle will now respond to requests for campaign donations with the question, 'What do I really know about this person, issue, or PAC?' "

About $135,000 of Rise NY's spending went to salaries and other payments to individuals, records show.

Tiffany Santos received roughly $26,000, while George Santos himself received $6,500 in payments described only as "other: must provide explanation." 

Little is known about Tiffany Santos, 26, who in making federal contributions to her brother listed herself as Rise NY's "president."

During the period she was claiming this role, Tiffany Santos was fighting eviction for failing to pay nearly $40,000 in rent on her $2,000-per-month apartment in Elmhurst, Queens, according to Queens County civil court records.

Cairo recalled that Tiffany Santos attended one of his meetings with George Santos but that she said little. 

Newsday’s repeated attempts to reach her have been unsuccessful.

The Rise NY PAC also spent $70,000 with companies tied to George Santos or consultants who had worked on his 2020 congressional campaign.

The expenditures included about $35,000 to Marks and two of her companies, both located in Shirley.

GMG Marketing Resources LLC was paid more than $20,000 on June 21, 2022, as "reimbursement," the PAC's state filings show.

Campaigns Unlimited, Marks' consulting firm, was paid a total of $14,090 in 2021 and 2022.

Marks herself also was paid $250.

Santos-tied committees paid companies owned by Marks more than $120,000 in total during the 2022 congressional election cycle, according to state and federal records.

Marks has not responded to numerous requests for comment.

Rise NY also spent approximately $20,000 at restaurants and hotels and for travel, Newsday's analysis shows.

On Sept. 7 and Oct. 5, 2021, the PAC also made two payments of $2,600 each to Nancy Pothos for “professional services,” according to amended filings with the state Board of Elections in late January. 

The filings say Pothos "refused to give" her address.

Public property records show Pothos owns a home in Whitestone where, according to state voter registration records, George Santos was registered to vote as of the Nov. 8 election.

Pothos told reporters in December that Santos and his husband had rented a two-bedroom apartment from her in the building for $2,600 a month.

She had said that Santos moved in with another man in July 2020 and moved out in August 2022. 

Pothos did not respond to requests for comment.

Newsday visited the address last week, but no one answered the door.

The two $2,600 payments from Rise NY to Pothos have not been reported previously.

Paul S. Ryan, an election law attorney who has worked for nonprofit watchdog groups such as the Campaign Legal Center, said New York election law prohibits the use of campaign funds to pay the full costs of personal residences.

Also, payments toward personal spaces where political work is done must be prorated, Ryan said.

"That would seem to be a clear violation of state campaign finance law," Ryan said in an email to Newsday.

"Even if Santos were using this rental property for some political purposes, he’d be prohibited by state law from paying the entire rent using committee funds," Ryan said.

Among the largest recipients of Rise NY money was the Liberty Education Forum, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit that seeks to promote alliances between the LGBTQ and conservative communities.

Liberty received a total of $57,600 from Rise NY, of which $1,800 was listed as for voter registration "materials or services," according to state campaign finance records.

On Sept. 13, 2021, Rise NY paid Liberty Education Forum $18,600 for "political contributions."

On Jan. 18, 2022, the PAC gave a "nonpolitical donation" of $18,600, records show.

In an email to Newsday, Liberty Education Forum president Charles Moran characterized the funds from Rise NY as "nonpolitical," saying the money supported an "LGBTQ human rights program" titled "Outspoken Middle East."

On Nov. 1, 2021, the PAC paid $1,800 to the Liberty Education Forum for Santos and two others to attend the group's $600-per-ticket annual gala, Moran said. It categorized that expense as for voter registration "materials or services."

Former first lady Melania Trump was the headline speaker and "Spirit of Lincoln" award winner, as was Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee.

"All I knew about RISE was that it was focused on voter registration, voter engagement and empowerment," Moran said in the email.

Moran said he was "obviously concerned about the entire situation with George."

"I don't think anyone truly knows the source of the funds on any of the accounts or businesses," Moran continued, "but given that we took the money to fund human rights efforts to prevent gays and lesbians from getting killed and executed in the Middle East, at least I take solace in the fact the money went to very good use."

With Anastasia Valeeva

 

 

With $70,000 in seed money, a political action committee named Rise NY launched in early 2021 and began blanketing social media with posts about its efforts to register new Republican voters in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

Scott Presler, a conservative activist with 1.3 million Twitter followers, was the public face. The PAC boasted of registering some 7,100 new GOP voters in New York State in 90 days.

Donations to Rise NY, ultimately totaling more than $430,000, came in from 37 states.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Rise NY, a PAC operated by George Santos' sister, spent $365,000 for salaries, consultants' fees and other unspecified payments to associates of Santos while he was running for Congress, a Newsday review of state records shows.
  • Santos, a Republican who was elected in the 3rd Congressional District in November, was involved closely in the operation of Rise NY, according to records and interviews.
  • Recipients of payments from Rise NY included Santos' sister, the candidate's campaign treasurer and Santos' landlord at a building where he lived in Whitestone, Queens, records show.

“Guys, was it easy? Was it fun? Did we grow the Republican Party?” Presler proclaimed cheerily in an August 2021 Instagram video. “That means if we can do it, you can do it, too!”

Unmentioned in that clip or any other posts by Rise NY was George Santos, and his deep involvement in the PAC's operations.

A Newsday examination of state campaign finance filings shows that of the $450,000 spent by Rise NY over a two-year period, about $365,000 went for salaries, consultants' fees and other unspecified payments to associates of Santos, a Republican who in November was elected to represent the 3rd Congressional District in Nassau and Queens, as well as hotels, meals and airline flights and large transfers to local GOP committees.

Recipients of its payments included Santos' sister, Tiffany Lee Devolder Santos; the candidate's campaign treasurer, Nancy Marks; and Santos' landlord at a building where he lived in Whitestone, Queens, state records show.

Only $2,000 was described as supporting "materials and services" for voter registration efforts, according to filings with the state Board of Elections.

The expenditures to the Nassau GOP — $62,500 each to the county and Hempstead Town committees — came on Sept. 13, 2021. 

Joseph Cairo, Nassau Republican chairman, recalled that Santos personally handed him the two checks from Rise NY when he visited GOP headquarters in Westbury.

Cairo said Santos — who had lost his 2020 bid to unseat then-Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) and was gearing up to run again in 2022 — told him the money he was contributing from Rise NY was raised “through his business contacts [and] that he managed millions of dollars of people's money.”

Cairo said Santos told him “he had met very wealthy people who believed philosophically as he did, and that he raised money from them through various entities, and [Rise] was one of them.”

“I thought, ‘This is for next year. He wants to run again … He's looking to curry favor to get the nomination,’” Cairo told Newsday.

The GOP committees returned the Rise NY contributions on Jan. 11, according to the PAC's latest reports filed with the state Board of Elections.

That day, Nassau Republican leaders called on Santos, who defeated Democrat Robert Zimmerman last year, to resign, weeks after revelations that he fabricated much of his personal back story, including his religion, education and work history. 

Santos, 34, is the subject of county, state and federal probes into his campaign finances.

Neither George Santos nor Tiffany Santos responded to requests for comment for this story.

Rise NY's origins

The Rise NY PAC formed with the state Board of Elections on Dec. 14, 2020.

Incorporation papers listed Tiffany Lee Devolder Santos as the sole person with "operational control over the PAC," and Marks was listed as treasurer.

Marks, a Shirley campaign consultant, also served as treasurer for Santos' federal campaign committees.

Rise NY began fundraising in early 2021, shortly after Santos halted fundraising through a federal "recount" committee that raised money to challenge his 2020 loss. 

Its websites have been deleted, but Instagram posts tell the story of an operation that began primarily with posts of political memes.

Soon, they were featuring Presler prominently.

Presler, a 34-year-old Virginia resident who attracted attention in 2016 as an early LGBTQ Trump backer, received $5,000 from Rise NY in June 2021 and $750 last April for serving as a “brand ambassador,” the PAC's posts and state campaign filings show.

Presler’s public comments on Rise NY social media pages focused primarily on boosting GOP representation in local government. He did not mention Santos.

“We are coming for the school boards, we are coming for the city councils, we are coming for the mayorships, we are coming for the sheriffs, we are coming for DA's … ,” Presler said during an October 2021 event at the “America First Warehouse” in Ronkonkoma.

Presler did not respond to requests for comment.

Rise NY held several fundraisers and voter registration drives across Long Island. In March 2022, volunteers seeking to register voters at a gas station in Manhasset held signs reading, "Pain at the Pump? Vote Republican."

One 2021 Rise NY flyer advertised a $250-per-person “flash fundraiser birthday party” for Presler at Il Bacco Ristorante in Little Neck, Queens.

Another touted a pool party on Memorial Day in Westhampton Beach.

Hosts of the Il Bacco event were listed as Joanne Zervos, an attorney who shares the same contribution address as John Maguire, who was paid more than $12,000 in wages by the PAC, and Syosset accounting firm executive Charles Vallone and his wife, Susan.

Zervos contributed a total of $17,250 to Rise NY over two years, according to the PAC's state filings.

The Vallones contributed a total of more than $80,000 to all Santos-tied committees during the 2022 congressional election cycle. 

There are no limits on the amount individuals can contribute to a state political action committee.

Extensive ties to Santos

Newsday's review of two years' worth of Rise NY's campaign finance filings, as well as interviews with donors and Nassau GOP leaders, show how Santos used the PAC to tap into a network of wealthy donors and grassroots organizers.

A person with knowledge of Santos' campaign operations said Santos' role with Rise NY primarily involved making “introductions” between large donors and Tiffany Santos.

Then he would “step back,” said the source, who declined to be identified in order to speak about internal Santos campaign information.

Several small donors to Rise NY told Newsday they had no idea Santos was involved with the PAC.

“Knowing that he could lie about so many things, I would not have given,” Deane Berson, 79, a psychiatrist from Cascade, Colorado, who contributed $54 on Oct. 2, 2022, told Newsday.

Berson said he thought the PAC was trying to “register minority conservatives.” 

According to state campaign finance records, Robin Newberger, of Yonkers, contributed 25 $10 donations to Rise NY in 2021.

After a Newsday reporter recited the contributions Rise NY attributed to her, Newberger said she had no record of donating to the PAC.

“As far as this PAC is concerned, I only give money to causes that are conservative, or conservative groups, like a specific conservative or a group of conservatives," Newberger said.

“Complete crook,” Newberger said of Santos.

Largest donors

Rise NY received 307 donations ranging from $1 to $100 each, according to state reports.

But the PAC drew most of its money from only two people:

  • Manhattan financier Andrew Intrater, a business associate of Santos, who contributed a total of $175,000, including $50,000 that represented one of the PAC's first contributions.
  • Robert Mangi, of the Garden City insurance agency Northeast Coverages, gave $150,000 on Sept. 10, 2021, three days before Santos delivered the $125,000 in contributions from Rise NY to Nassau GOP chairman Cairo.

Intrater, who manages money for his cousin, the Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, did not respond to multiple requests for comment. 

Through a spokesman, Mangi declined to comment specifically about his contribution to Rise NY.

In a statement for a Newsday story last week about Santos' campaign fundraising, Mangi called Santos a “fraud" and said "donors on all sides of the political aisle will now respond to requests for campaign donations with the question, 'What do I really know about this person, issue, or PAC?' "

Payments to sister, treasurer's firms

About $135,000 of Rise NY's spending went to salaries and other payments to individuals, records show.

Tiffany Santos received roughly $26,000, while George Santos himself received $6,500 in payments described only as "other: must provide explanation." 

Little is known about Tiffany Santos, 26, who in making federal contributions to her brother listed herself as Rise NY's "president."

During the period she was claiming this role, Tiffany Santos was fighting eviction for failing to pay nearly $40,000 in rent on her $2,000-per-month apartment in Elmhurst, Queens, according to Queens County civil court records.

Cairo recalled that Tiffany Santos attended one of his meetings with George Santos but that she said little. 

Newsday’s repeated attempts to reach her have been unsuccessful.

The Rise NY PAC also spent $70,000 with companies tied to George Santos or consultants who had worked on his 2020 congressional campaign.

The expenditures included about $35,000 to Marks and two of her companies, both located in Shirley.

GMG Marketing Resources LLC was paid more than $20,000 on June 21, 2022, as "reimbursement," the PAC's state filings show.

Campaigns Unlimited, Marks' consulting firm, was paid a total of $14,090 in 2021 and 2022.

Marks herself also was paid $250.

Santos-tied committees paid companies owned by Marks more than $120,000 in total during the 2022 congressional election cycle, according to state and federal records.

Marks has not responded to numerous requests for comment.

Rise NY also spent approximately $20,000 at restaurants and hotels and for travel, Newsday's analysis shows.

Landlord receives money

On Sept. 7 and Oct. 5, 2021, the PAC also made two payments of $2,600 each to Nancy Pothos for “professional services,” according to amended filings with the state Board of Elections in late January. 

The filings say Pothos "refused to give" her address.

Public property records show Pothos owns a home in Whitestone where, according to state voter registration records, George Santos was registered to vote as of the Nov. 8 election.

Pothos told reporters in December that Santos and his husband had rented a two-bedroom apartment from her in the building for $2,600 a month.

She had said that Santos moved in with another man in July 2020 and moved out in August 2022. 

Pothos did not respond to requests for comment.

Newsday visited the address last week, but no one answered the door.

The two $2,600 payments from Rise NY to Pothos have not been reported previously.

Paul S. Ryan, an election law attorney who has worked for nonprofit watchdog groups such as the Campaign Legal Center, said New York election law prohibits the use of campaign funds to pay the full costs of personal residences.

Also, payments toward personal spaces where political work is done must be prorated, Ryan said.

"That would seem to be a clear violation of state campaign finance law," Ryan said in an email to Newsday.

"Even if Santos were using this rental property for some political purposes, he’d be prohibited by state law from paying the entire rent using committee funds," Ryan said.

'Obviously concerned'

Among the largest recipients of Rise NY money was the Liberty Education Forum, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit that seeks to promote alliances between the LGBTQ and conservative communities.

Liberty received a total of $57,600 from Rise NY, of which $1,800 was listed as for voter registration "materials or services," according to state campaign finance records.

On Sept. 13, 2021, Rise NY paid Liberty Education Forum $18,600 for "political contributions."

On Jan. 18, 2022, the PAC gave a "nonpolitical donation" of $18,600, records show.

In an email to Newsday, Liberty Education Forum president Charles Moran characterized the funds from Rise NY as "nonpolitical," saying the money supported an "LGBTQ human rights program" titled "Outspoken Middle East."

On Nov. 1, 2021, the PAC paid $1,800 to the Liberty Education Forum for Santos and two others to attend the group's $600-per-ticket annual gala, Moran said. It categorized that expense as for voter registration "materials or services."

Former first lady Melania Trump was the headline speaker and "Spirit of Lincoln" award winner, as was Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee.

"All I knew about RISE was that it was focused on voter registration, voter engagement and empowerment," Moran said in the email.

Moran said he was "obviously concerned about the entire situation with George."

"I don't think anyone truly knows the source of the funds on any of the accounts or businesses," Moran continued, "but given that we took the money to fund human rights efforts to prevent gays and lesbians from getting killed and executed in the Middle East, at least I take solace in the fact the money went to very good use."

With Anastasia Valeeva

 

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