Newsday's Paul LaRocco discusses how George Santos quietly backed a cryptocurrency trade association leader against the GOP's nominated candidate in the First Congressional District during the primaries. Credit: NewsdayTV

George Santos was happy to accept the backing of Long Island Republican leaders in his campaign for Congress.

At the same time, Santos was working against the party's nominee in the 1st Congressional District, Nick LaLota, Newsday found.

Santos' behind-the-scenes actions in support of Michelle Bond, a cryptocurrency trade association leader who had launched an eleventh hour insurgent challenge to LaLota, show how Santos played all sides during his successful campaign for Congress in the neighboring 3rd District, political leaders and experts told Newsday.

Santos didn't come away empty-handed:

Within two weeks of Bond's entry into the 1st District race, Santos received the first of what would become $46,000 in campaign donations from cryptocurrency executives and their family members, all of whom also were Bond donors, according to federal campaign finance records.

Santos' connections to Bond and her donors, much of which has not been previously reported, allowed Santos to reap crypto campaign funds and strengthen his standing with a local right-wing group with a large following, party leaders said.

“I believe he did things to ingratiate himself, for the sole purpose of advancing his personal career at the expense of other members on the ticket,” Suffolk GOP chairman Jesse Garcia told Newsday last week.

Garcia had backed Santos early in the 2022 campaign, before the 3rd District was redrawn to eliminate portions of Suffolk.

He also had helped Santos, who lost his bid for the seat in 2020, avoid a primary by steering another prospective candidate to a run for New York State Assembly.

“It was just all about himself,” Garcia said.

Matthew Green, chairman of the department of politics at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., called it unusual for nonincumbents with establishment support to move against other party-endorsed candidates in primaries.

“It’s like you're trying to play kingmaker and you're not even a member of a kingdom," Green told Newsday.

Santos, Green said, was "trying to decide who’s going to get elected. The polite way to put it is it’s very bold.”

Santos, who defeated Democrat Robert Zimmerman in November, is the subject of county, state and federal probes into his personal and campaign finances and has admitted fabricating key parts of his biography, including his religion, education and work history.

He declined to comment for this story.

Bond did not respond to calls and text messages seeking comment.

LaLota won his Aug. 23 primary with 47% of the vote, while Bond got 28%. A third candidate, Anthony Figliola, a former Brookhaven Town deputy supervisor, received 25%.

Like Santos, LaLota went on to win in November. He was among the first House Republicans to call for a House ethics inquiry into Santos and his resignation.

Santos never endorsed Bond publicly, but he aided her campaign in numerous ways, according to the Federal Election Commission records and interviews:

He was a link between Bond and a group of conservative activists who became her most vocal supporters, and whose leaders formed a company that received $150,000 in payments for campaign work from Bond.

Santos’ sister, Tiffany Santos, president of a political action committee tied closely to George Santos, contributed the individual maximum of $5,800 to Bond’s campaign days after Bond announced her run.

At least six top Santos donors were among Bond’s largest individual contributors.

Another federal Santos PAC funneled $5,800 to Bond's campaign about a month before the primary, records show.

Super PACs funded by Bond’s boyfriend Ryan Salame — co-chief executive officer of FTX Digital Markets, the cryptocurrency exchange that collapsed late last year — spent millions in the 1st District primary.

The Crypto Innovation super PAC spent $1.3 million to support Bond, as did the Stand for NY Committee, with more than $25,000, according to FEC filings.

Stand for NY spent more than $730,000 opposing LaLota's candidacy, as did the Crypto Freedom PAC, which paid more than $287,000 in independent expenditures, opposing LaLota.

Salame also contributed millions of dollars to Republican candidates nationwide, while his FTX partner, Samuel Bankman-Fried, gave significant sums to Democrats across the country.

In December, federal prosecutors in Manhattan announced an eight-count indictment of Bankman-Fried, charging him with fraud, money laundering, and campaign finance violations. He has pleaded not guilty.

Given the big money behind Bond's candidacy, LaLota, a U.S. Navy veteran and former Suffolk GOP elections commissioner, said he wasn't surprised Santos associated himself with her.

“She came to the race with three and a half-million dollars. And she was trying to buy the seat,” LaLota (R-Amityville) said in an interview.

Santos, “recognized that right away, and gravitated himself towards that big money," LaLota said.

Bond’s candidacy took many people in the Suffolk GOP by surprise.

Bond at the time was is chief executive of the Association for Digital Asset Markets, a major cryptocurrency trade association with offices in Manhattan and Washington, D.C.

Bond filed her statement of candidacy with the FEC and registered to vote in New York State, using a Port Jefferson address, on May 31, 2022, less than three months before the 1st District primary, state and federal records show.

Bond, 43, filed petitions to run for the seat just before the June 10 deadline for making the ballot and publicly announced her run with a tweet on June 16.

During her campaign, she touted her roots in the 1st District, saying she had grown up in Miller Place and worked at a fast-food restaurant in Rocky Point.

By the time of the 1st District primary, however, Bond been away from Long Island for many years. Before her trade association position, she worked as an attorney for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and for a Senate Banking Committee, according to her campaign biography.

Some of Bond's top donors were the same as those who contributed to Santos committees.

Raymond Tantillo, who runs numerous auto dealerships on Long Island, combined with family members to give $11,600 to Bond last summer. The Tantillo family contributed a total of about $50,000 to Santos-tied committees.

Tiffany Santos made her $5,800 in contributions to Bond on June 27.

Santos' GADS PAC, using the initials of Santos' full name, George Anthony Devolder Santos, contributed $5,800 to Bond's campaign in late July, FEC filings show.

It had given $2,900 to LaLota's campaign in March, before Bond's entry and before Suffolk was eliminated from Santos' district.

Bond ultimately raised about $700,000 for her congressional campaign, and lent herself another $900,000, FEC reports show.

Anthony Figliola, the other 1st District GOP candidate, raised and spent $68,000 during his entire nine-month campaign.

“She came out of nowhere at the last minute," Figliola, a 42-year-old lobbyist, told Newsday. “This was a pure power play by the crypto industry looking to get a seat at the table on Wall Street. She spent about $570 a vote. I spent $6.25.”

Garcia said he knew Santos was helping Bond's campaign, even before campaign finance records spelled it out more clearly, because people were reporting seeing Bond and Santos together.

One such occasion was Republican gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin's party in Nassau County on June 28, when he won his statewide primary.

“There are no coincidences in this business,” Garcia said.

Within two weeks of Bond announcing her candidacy, cryptocurrency executives and their associated PACs began contributing to Santos at a fast clip.

On June 27, Ryan Salame contributed $5,800 to Santos’ primary congressional committee, Devolder Santos for Congress, His father, Michael Salame, gave $5,800 on June 29 and his mother, Susan Salame, donated $5,800 on June 30, according to FEC filings, , On June 27, Santos' campaign received $5,800 from Daniel Matuszewski, a co-founder of CMS Holdings, a company that invests money across “the crypto-asset ecosystem,” , John Trabucco, listed as chief executive of the Bankman-Fried company Alameda Research, gave Santos $2,900 on June 27, and another $2,900 on June 30, , Daniel Friedberg, who also worked for Alameda Research and once had served as chief regulator of FTX, gave $5,800 to Santos on June 28, , Clarissa Watanabe, a Long Beach, California, executive for FTX, gave Santos $5,800 on June 30, , Arora Ramnik, an Albany, California-based executive for FTX, contributed $5,800 to Santos on Aug, 1, .

All those donors also gave to the Bond congressional campaign, records show.

“It sure seems that it’s possible that what Santos was trying to do is curry favor with wealthy outsiders, including the cryptocurrency industry," said Green, the political science professor.

"One way to do that is to support someone connected to that industry," such as Bond, Green said.

Bond found almost immediate support from the Long Island Loud Majority, a group of conservative activists with a large social media following. The group, co-founded by Shawn Farash and Kevin Smith, grew from protesting COVID-19 mandates to endorsing school board candidates, hosting podcasts and selling merchandise.

On July 6, Farash incorporated “Patriot Consultants Corp.” with New York State, business records show. The filing listed its address as a Deer Park storefront that the Loud Majority had fashioned last year into a new headquarters and recording studio.

The corporation's address was later changed to a post office box in Ridge.

On July 8, the Bond campaign paid Patriot Consultants Corp. $75,000 for “IT services,” according to FEC filings. It listed the company’s address as the Ridge P.O. box, with attention to Dave Lipsky.

Lipsky, a Dix Hills resident who runs a commercial vehicle fleet repair business and is active on conservative social media, was a top donor to Santos’ congressional campaigns. He and his wife, Kacey, contributed nearly $22,000 to Santos-tied committees, FEC records show.

The couple’s daughter, Gabrielle, was paid more than $30,000 as a press consultant for the Santos campaign, FEC reports show. She is now on Santos’ congressional staff.

On July 18, Farash and Smith had Bond on their podcast. Smith said they planned to be “out knocking doors, working our butts off for Michelle.”

The hosts also described Santos as “our dear friend."

“We love George,” Bond chimed in.

On Aug. 15, Bond’s campaign paid another $75,000 to Patriot Consultants, again listing Lipsky as the contact, records show. The purpose of the expenditure was described as “Operations: General Consulting.”

Santos’ GADS PAC is the only other campaign committee that hired Patriot during the 2022 election cycle, according to available election records.

It paid Patriot $7,500 on Oct. 14 for work as “fundraising event coordinator.”

Farash and Lipsky did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Smith hung up the phone on a Newsday reporter.

LaLota said Santos’ involvement in the GOP 1st District primary on Bond's behalf “was more than annoying,” but ultimately not something he felt compelled to address head-on during the campaign.

In the end, LaLota said, Santos' support for Bond "really had no effect. We won our primary; we won it convincingly."

Garcia said it was “by the grace of God” that Suffolk GOP committee members were able to conduct enough field work to stave off Bond’s well-funded candidacy.

“These two individuals were conspiring against the party’s nominees,” Garcia said of Santos and Bond. "We were going to defend our line. That's our job — to defend this line."

George Santos was happy to accept the backing of Long Island Republican leaders in his campaign for Congress.

At the same time, Santos was working against the party's nominee in the 1st Congressional District, Nick LaLota, Newsday found.

Santos' behind-the-scenes actions in support of Michelle Bond, a cryptocurrency trade association leader who had launched an eleventh hour insurgent challenge to LaLota, show how Santos played all sides during his successful campaign for Congress in the neighboring 3rd District, political leaders and experts told Newsday.

Santos didn't come away empty-handed:

WHAT TO KNOW

  • After securing the endorsement of top Republicans for his campaign in the 3rd Congressional District, George Santos spent last summer working against Nick LaLota, the GOP's candidate in the neighboring 1st District, Newsday found.
  • Santos' behind-the-scenes actions were on behalf of Michelle Bond, a cryptocurrency trade association leader who had launched an 11th-hour, insurgent challenge to LaLota.
  • Soon, Santos began receiving the first of what would total more than $46,000 in campaign donations from cryptocurrency executives and their family members, all of whom also were donors to Bond.

Within two weeks of Bond's entry into the 1st District race, Santos received the first of what would become $46,000 in campaign donations from cryptocurrency executives and their family members, all of whom also were Bond donors, according to federal campaign finance records.

Santos' connections to Bond and her donors, much of which has not been previously reported, allowed Santos to reap crypto campaign funds and strengthen his standing with a local right-wing group with a large following, party leaders said.

“I believe he did things to ingratiate himself, for the sole purpose of advancing his personal career at the expense of other members on the ticket,” Suffolk GOP chairman Jesse Garcia told Newsday last week.

Garcia had backed Santos early in the 2022 campaign, before the 3rd District was redrawn to eliminate portions of Suffolk.

He also had helped Santos, who lost his bid for the seat in 2020, avoid a primary by steering another prospective candidate to a run for New York State Assembly.

“It was just all about himself,” Garcia said.

Matthew Green, chairman of the department of politics at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., called it unusual for nonincumbents with establishment support to move against other party-endorsed candidates in primaries.

“It’s like you're trying to play kingmaker and you're not even a member of a kingdom," Green told Newsday.

Santos, Green said, was "trying to decide who’s going to get elected. The polite way to put it is it’s very bold.”

Santos, who defeated Democrat Robert Zimmerman in November, is the subject of county, state and federal probes into his personal and campaign finances and has admitted fabricating key parts of his biography, including his religion, education and work history.

He declined to comment for this story.

Bond did not respond to calls and text messages seeking comment.

LaLota won his Aug. 23 primary with 47% of the vote, while Bond got 28%. A third candidate, Anthony Figliola, a former Brookhaven Town deputy supervisor, received 25%.

Like Santos, LaLota went on to win in November. He was among the first House Republicans to call for a House ethics inquiry into Santos and his resignation.

Santos, Bond campaign ties

Santos never endorsed Bond publicly, but he aided her campaign in numerous ways, according to the Federal Election Commission records and interviews:

He was a link between Bond and a group of conservative activists who became her most vocal supporters, and whose leaders formed a company that received $150,000 in payments for campaign work from Bond.

Santos’ sister, Tiffany Santos, president of a political action committee tied closely to George Santos, contributed the individual maximum of $5,800 to Bond’s campaign days after Bond announced her run.

At least six top Santos donors were among Bond’s largest individual contributors.

Another federal Santos PAC funneled $5,800 to Bond's campaign about a month before the primary, records show.

Super PACs funded by Bond’s boyfriend Ryan Salame — co-chief executive officer of FTX Digital Markets, the cryptocurrency exchange that collapsed late last year — spent millions in the 1st District primary.

The Crypto Innovation super PAC spent $1.3 million to support Bond, as did the Stand for NY Committee, with more than $25,000, according to FEC filings.

Stand for NY spent more than $730,000 opposing LaLota's candidacy, as did the Crypto Freedom PAC, which paid more than $287,000 in independent expenditures, opposing LaLota.

Salame also contributed millions of dollars to Republican candidates nationwide, while his FTX partner, Samuel Bankman-Fried, gave significant sums to Democrats across the country.

In December, federal prosecutors in Manhattan announced an eight-count indictment of Bankman-Fried, charging him with fraud, money laundering, and campaign finance violations. He has pleaded not guilty.

Given the big money behind Bond's candidacy, LaLota, a U.S. Navy veteran and former Suffolk GOP elections commissioner, said he wasn't surprised Santos associated himself with her.

“She came to the race with three and a half-million dollars. And she was trying to buy the seat,” LaLota (R-Amityville) said in an interview.

Santos, “recognized that right away, and gravitated himself towards that big money," LaLota said.

Late entry by Bond

Bond’s candidacy took many people in the Suffolk GOP by surprise.

Bond at the time was is chief executive of the Association for Digital Asset Markets, a major cryptocurrency trade association with offices in Manhattan and Washington, D.C.

Bond filed her statement of candidacy with the FEC and registered to vote in New York State, using a Port Jefferson address, on May 31, 2022, less than three months before the 1st District primary, state and federal records show.

Bond, 43, filed petitions to run for the seat just before the June 10 deadline for making the ballot and publicly announced her run with a tweet on June 16.

During her campaign, she touted her roots in the 1st District, saying she had grown up in Miller Place and worked at a fast-food restaurant in Rocky Point.

By the time of the 1st District primary, however, Bond been away from Long Island for many years. Before her trade association position, she worked as an attorney for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and for a Senate Banking Committee, according to her campaign biography.

Santos, Bond share donors

Some of Bond's top donors were the same as those who contributed to Santos committees.

Raymond Tantillo, who runs numerous auto dealerships on Long Island, combined with family members to give $11,600 to Bond last summer. The Tantillo family contributed a total of about $50,000 to Santos-tied committees.

Tiffany Santos made her $5,800 in contributions to Bond on June 27.

Santos' GADS PAC, using the initials of Santos' full name, George Anthony Devolder Santos, contributed $5,800 to Bond's campaign in late July, FEC filings show.

It had given $2,900 to LaLota's campaign in March, before Bond's entry and before Suffolk was eliminated from Santos' district.

Bond ultimately raised about $700,000 for her congressional campaign, and lent herself another $900,000, FEC reports show.

Anthony Figliola, the other 1st District GOP candidate, raised and spent $68,000 during his entire nine-month campaign.

“She came out of nowhere at the last minute," Figliola, a 42-year-old lobbyist, told Newsday. “This was a pure power play by the crypto industry looking to get a seat at the table on Wall Street. She spent about $570 a vote. I spent $6.25.”

Garcia said he knew Santos was helping Bond's campaign, even before campaign finance records spelled it out more clearly, because people were reporting seeing Bond and Santos together.

One such occasion was Republican gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin's party in Nassau County on June 28, when he won his statewide primary.

“There are no coincidences in this business,” Garcia said.

Crypto money donors' timeline

Within two weeks of Bond announcing her candidacy, cryptocurrency executives and their associated PACs began contributing to Santos at a fast clip.

  • On June 27, Ryan Salame contributed $5,800 to Santos’ primary congressional committee, Devolder Santos for Congress. His father, Michael Salame, gave $5,800 on June 29 and his mother, Susan Salame, donated $5,800 on June 30, according to FEC filings.
  • On June 27, Santos' campaign received $5,800 from Daniel Matuszewski, a co-founder of CMS Holdings, a company that invests money across “the crypto-asset ecosystem.”
  • John Trabucco, listed as chief executive of the Bankman-Fried company Alameda Research, gave Santos $2,900 on June 27, and another $2,900 on June 30.
  • Daniel Friedberg, who also worked for Alameda Research and once had served as chief regulator of FTX, gave $5,800 to Santos on June 28.
  • Clarissa Watanabe, a Long Beach, California, executive for FTX, gave Santos $5,800 on June 30.
  • Arora Ramnik, an Albany, California-based executive for FTX, contributed $5,800 to Santos on Aug. 1.

All those donors also gave to the Bond congressional campaign, records show.

“It sure seems that it’s possible that what Santos was trying to do is curry favor with wealthy outsiders, including the cryptocurrency industry," said Green, the political science professor.

"One way to do that is to support someone connected to that industry," such as Bond, Green said.

Support from Santos backers

Bond found almost immediate support from the Long Island Loud Majority, a group of conservative activists with a large social media following. The group, co-founded by Shawn Farash and Kevin Smith, grew from protesting COVID-19 mandates to endorsing school board candidates, hosting podcasts and selling merchandise.

On July 6, Farash incorporated “Patriot Consultants Corp.” with New York State, business records show. The filing listed its address as a Deer Park storefront that the Loud Majority had fashioned last year into a new headquarters and recording studio.

The corporation's address was later changed to a post office box in Ridge.

On July 8, the Bond campaign paid Patriot Consultants Corp. $75,000 for “IT services,” according to FEC filings. It listed the company’s address as the Ridge P.O. box, with attention to Dave Lipsky.

Lipsky, a Dix Hills resident who runs a commercial vehicle fleet repair business and is active on conservative social media, was a top donor to Santos’ congressional campaigns. He and his wife, Kacey, contributed nearly $22,000 to Santos-tied committees, FEC records show.

The couple’s daughter, Gabrielle, was paid more than $30,000 as a press consultant for the Santos campaign, FEC reports show. She is now on Santos’ congressional staff.

On July 18, Farash and Smith had Bond on their podcast. Smith said they planned to be “out knocking doors, working our butts off for Michelle.”

The hosts also described Santos as “our dear friend."

“We love George,” Bond chimed in.

On Aug. 15, Bond’s campaign paid another $75,000 to Patriot Consultants, again listing Lipsky as the contact, records show. The purpose of the expenditure was described as “Operations: General Consulting.”

Santos’ GADS PAC is the only other campaign committee that hired Patriot during the 2022 election cycle, according to available election records.

It paid Patriot $7,500 on Oct. 14 for work as “fundraising event coordinator.”

Farash and Lipsky did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Smith hung up the phone on a Newsday reporter.

Party's favorite won this time

LaLota said Santos’ involvement in the GOP 1st District primary on Bond's behalf “was more than annoying,” but ultimately not something he felt compelled to address head-on during the campaign.

In the end, LaLota said, Santos' support for Bond "really had no effect. We won our primary; we won it convincingly."

Garcia said it was “by the grace of God” that Suffolk GOP committee members were able to conduct enough field work to stave off Bond’s well-funded candidacy.

“These two individuals were conspiring against the party’s nominees,” Garcia said of Santos and Bond. "We were going to defend our line. That's our job — to defend this line."

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