Treasurer in the spotlight
A sign of the far reach of the George Santos saga was visible at the Monday evening board meeting for the Mastics-Moriches-Shirley Community Library.
Crowded into a small recreation center room decorated with snowmen and snowflakes were a handful of journalists and concerned citizens who had driven through the wintry mix outside to see whether library trustee Nancy Marks would show up in public.
Marks served as campaign treasurer for Rep. George Santos, among other services provided to the now-infamous freshman Republican. She has come in for scrutiny due to numerous irregularities or unusual aspects of Santos’ filings.
Marks is also affiliated with multiple companies that have provided services to Santos and a host of other Republicans in Suffolk County and beyond in recent years, including former Rep. Lee Zeldin. It was this business background and Suffolk political history that Lisa Sevimli of Patchogue alluded to in the public comment section of the Monday meeting, noting that Marks had once worked for former Suffolk Legis. Fred Towle, who has had several run-ins with the law for corruption and tax evasion. And the library has paid thousands of dollars a month for promotion and publicity through the South Shore Press, an outlet whose masthead lists Matthew Towle, who shares Fred’s address, under “Sales & Marketing.”
Sevimli, who says she has helped Democratic campaigns and has been following the Santos story, also mentioned a local company called ECM Consulting and Marketing, whose state corporation paperwork includes Nancy Marks’ name. A Chamber of Commerce listing puts the younger Towle as contact for that business, too.
At the meeting, library board president Joseph Maiorana said of the South Shore contract that “nobody on this board gets any benefit from that advertising.”
Library spokesman Mark Grossman later told The Point that Marks told the library director that she did corporate filing of paperwork early on when ECM Consulting and Marketing was formed, but that she has no ownership stake and is not an officer in the corporation.
Marks did not show up to the library meeting on Monday, but she continues to be the subject of Santos-related attention from various corners. It is becoming clear that Marks was more central to Santos’ operation than just being the person who filed his paperwork — Dr. Jeff Vacirca, a Long Island cancer doctor who was a big Santos’ campaign contributor, told Newsday this week that Marks introduced him to Santos. The freshman’s campaign committees paid tens of thousands of dollars to her companies for work that included accounting, printing, and fundraising expenses.
And texts shared with The Point show Santos saying Marks was with him on a fundraising trip to Kansas in 2021.
Marks is scheduled to be feted on Friday at a 50th anniversary celebration for the Mastic organization Colonial Youth & Family Services, which lists her as a vice president. Executive director Lynda Zach told The Point the group was still holding the event but gave no comment when asked whether Marks would be showing up.
— Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano
The state Department of Labor has come under fire over the billions of dollars of unemployment insurance fraud it experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic. A House of Representatives oversight committee investigation looms. And an enormous discrepancy remains between Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s estimate of $11 billion in fraud — and the department’s own estimate of just $4 billion.
But either way the fraud was massive. And it’s even more significant when put into some context.
In response to queries from the editorial board, the Labor Department presented a breakdown of the number and dollar volume of fraudulent claims, per year, from 2016 through 2022. While Department officials noted that the numbers are subject to change, based on newly discovered fraud or recovered funds, the statistics are stunning.
In 2016, the Department reports it saw a single case of fraud that impacted more than 30 claims, resulting in about $10,000 in lost funds. In 2017, just two claims led to about $29,000 in losses.
Come 2018, the claims were worth more — three cases of fraud, impacting 35 fraudulent claims, led to $265,530 in lost money. In 2019, there were another three cases of fraud — but they impacted 94 claims, resulting in just $45,843 in losses. In those years, the state Labor Department was able to identify how many actors — either individuals or groups — filed the fraudulent claims, in addition to the actual number of claims.
Then everything changed. In the first year of the pandemic, the Department says it saw 489,604 fraudulent claims attempted, resulting in a staggering $3 billion in losses. In 2021, 1 million fraudulent claims were attempted, leading to another $1.1 billion in losses. Investigations are ongoing to determine how many actors filed those claims.
That $4.1 billion in fraud is a figure the Labor Department says it obtained through an analysis of both unemployment and pandemic claim data, and is as of November 2022. Of that fraud, $1.53 billion came through the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA, program, while another $2 billion emerged from the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, or FPUC, program. Then, $82 million is from the federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, or PEUC, effort. All of those programs were established by the federal CARES Act.
Only $388 million of the total fraud came through the state’s established unemployment insurance program, according to the Labor Department.
— Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall
Month of mayhem
For more cartoons, visit www.newsday.com/nationalcartoons
Santos plays Santa for comedians
Even before Rep. George Devolder Santos took the oath of office, revelations of his false credentials and made-up persona prodded memories of comedian Jon Lovitz’s shifty-eyed, pre-internet “liar” character on Saturday Night Live.
Now, thanks to the instant gratification of social media, the recent inevitable Lovitz riffs on Santos have gone not just viral but interactive.
On Monday, at 6:37 p.m., Santos tweeted in the sour, defensive style of ex-President Donald Trump: “I have now been enshrined in late night TV history with all these impersonations, but they are all TERRIBLE so far. Jon Lovitz is supposed to be one of the greatest comedians of all time and that was embarrassing — for him not me! These comedians need to step their game up.”
Lovitz, as expected from a seasoned pro, tweeted a couple of comeback zingers. First, he replied at 8:36 p.m. Monday: “Finally!!! You’re honest about something!!!” Two hours later, as the likes, responses and retweets built, Lovitz added: “ … You’re right! I do need to step my game up! My pathological liar character can’t hold a candle to you! Loved your “Jew-ish” joke. One of my favorites I do all the time!”
Santos became an instant gift to influential televised satire beyond the classic generational targets that included Bill Clinton, David Paterson, and Anthony Weiner on the Democratic side, and Sarah Palin, Gerald Ford, and Richard Nixon on the Republican side. Perhaps because he’s been a near-total impostor on every facet of his true identity — and a deserving object of ridicule from both left and right — the jokes don’t require much prior knowledge to get. Nor do the imitations take much acting skill.
So the early canon of Santos humor has quickly grown voluminous. A make-believe Santos character tells Stephen Colbert: “They can’t get rid of me. I’m the speaker of the House.” Addressing science issues, Lovitz as Santos tells Jimmy Fallon: “It was my idea to have gravity.” On SNL, the Santos stand-in says: “I’m a proud representative of my district in Long Island, N.J.” And another pseudo-Santos tells Jimmy Kimmel: “I was the first openly gay Jewish Latino to walk on the moon.”
Memes, of course, have replicated in real time. One caption with a photo of Santos: “I don’t usually tell the truth but when I do …. Well, we can talk about that when it actually happens.” There’s his image replacing the Leonardo DiCaprio character in “Catch Me If You Can.” Another says he uses the drag name “Liza Lott.” Another has Santos superimposed as Jesus in DaVinci’s “The Last Supper.”
How soon will these and the oodles of other Santos jokes get old? That depends on how much new material is yet to come.
— Dan Janison @Danjanison