It’s no surprise that federal prosecutors have filed criminal charges against Rep. George Santos, as CNN first reported Tuesday night. It’s only a surprise that it took this long.
Ever since the New York Republican hit the national scene last year by winning a congressional seat on Long Island, the lies he told about his life have been unraveling. His resume was quickly blown to bits, starting with a New York Times investigation that unearthed criminal charges for check fraud in Brazil, a phony Baruch diploma (he didn’t attend), a fake job on Wall Street, and a bogus pet nonprofit. That was just for starters.
Soon the world knew all sorts of other things Santos had made up or embellished: a Jewish background, a volleyball championship, the 9/11-related death of his mother, a producer role in the catatonic Broadway production of Spider-Man. A stream of acquaintances emerged to detail a staggering array of grifts: how he ran off with money meant to save a disabled Navy veteran’s pit bull; how he nabbed checks and a Burberry scarf; how he siphoned campaign money to pay for what looks like a roof over his head and meal after meal at the red-sauce joint Il Bacco, to say nothing of the hundreds of thousands of dollars he claims to have mysteriously loaned to his campaign. Santos’s lifetime of hustling rivals the fake heiress Anna Delvey, with the international swagger of Frank Abagnale in Catch Me If You Can.
Read More: All the Investigations Into George Santos.
I started reporting on Santos in 2019, when I called him for a routine introductory item for Newsday, Long Island’s paper of record. He was supposedly launching his first run for Congress, but said he was at a work conference in Miami, some 1,300 miles from the district he wanted to represent. That was the first hint of weirdness. In the years that followed, I wrote about his lack of a fixed address, his vagueness on biographical details, his campaign finance irregularities, and his (unverified) suggestion that he was paying legal bills for Jan. 6 rioters. For the past few months, I’ve delved deeper into his activities and background for my forthcoming book, “The Fabulist: The Lying, Hustling, Grifting, Stealing, and Very American Legend of George Santos.”
Sorting fact from fiction for Santos was an adventure that took me as far as Brazil. After journalist Marisa Kabas found a picture there of Santos, dressed in drag at the dawn of the Obama era, the congressman told reporters that he was not a drag queen, but simply a young man who “had fun at a festival.” That was not the recollection of multiple people I spoke to in and around Niteroi, the city next to Rio where Santos lived on and off as he came of age. There was the family friend who said Santos was known as a drag queen. There was the drag mentor Eula Rochard, who showed Santos how to brush wigs and choose earrings, and who remembers Santos saying he wanted to marry rich someday. There was the young girl who once considered Santos an uncle figure, and who can’t forget him dancing with her, wearing a bra and a towel on his head, to the tune of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.”
“Anthony is moved by money,” that girl’s mother, Adriana Parizzi, told me in April. (She knew Santos as Anthony Devolder, a portion of his full name he used before his life in politics.) As we spoke, Parizzi passed her phone across a table to show me texts in Portuguese in which she blamed Santos for absconding with her jewelry, while Santos called her a whale and worse.
The public allegations against Santos are just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve found three people on two continents to whom he raised the prospect of immigration-related marriages—to himself or others. Family members say he has run off with money from close relatives, even mooching off his grandmother. “He was trying to get any type of money for free as fast as possible,” one of his ex-roommates told me, recalling his time living with Santos in New York in the 2010s.
The embattled congressman is a strange character to interact with, as if all his shape shifting has deformed his sense of how a person should or needs to move in the world. He can be charming, and he knows how to flash the impression of having money, whether it’s the Cartier watch he claims is a family heirloom or the way he’d ostentatiously pay for another bottle of wine at dinner. One brief past boyfriend, who was a dishwasher at a Florida surf-and-turf restaurant when he met Santos on Grindr, told me that this new friend seemed charming and high class: “I was mostly McDonald’s and Taco Bell. He was mostly caviar and fancy food.”
Santos seems to lie without being able to help himself—whether it’s telling fellow call-center workers in a dusty College Point cubicle farm that his family has property in Nantucket, or his bizarre public claim that former Democratic congressman Steve Israel, the one-time leader of the House Democrats’ campaign arm, was going to vote for Santos, the first Republican that Israel would have backed in his life.
The charges against Santos remain under seal. It’s not known what crimes he is alleged to have committed. The congressman did not return a request for comment Tuesday night, but he has hardly been hiding in recent days. Just last week he ranted to me on the phone about my attempts to report on his background and talk to people who knew him, calling back to say more, and finally, texting threats. (“I will move forward with legal ramifications if you do not stop,” etc.). He has filed to run for re-election, putting House Republican leaders in a bind—forced to back an alleged serial grifter, or throw one of their own overboard, reducing their already slim majority.
I’ve been told that Santos’s mother—whose funeral-home costs were never paid despite the family’s church raising money for that purpose, and giving that money to Santos—was known to sigh with exasperation when confronted with one of her son’s bigger lies: “Oh, Anthony and his stories.”
Those stories may now be coming back to haunt Santos in a court of law. But his own tale is just beginning.