George Santos: Justice Department asks FEC to stand down as prosecutors probe New York congressman

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The Justice Department has asked the Federal Election Commission to hold off on any enforcement action against George Santos, the Republican congressman from New York who lied about key aspects of his biography, as prosecutors conduct a parallel criminal probe, according to two people familiar with the request.

The request, which came from the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section, is the clearest sign to date that federal prosecutors are examining Santos’s campaign finances.

The Justice Department request also asked that the FEC provide any relevant documents to the Justice Department, according to the knowledgeable people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the matter’s sensitivity.

A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment. An FEC spokeswoman said the regulator “cannot comment on enforcement.” Neither Santos nor his attorney responded to requests for comment.

The 34-year-old congressman, whose election to Congress from Long Island last year helped the GOP secure its narrow House majority, has apologized for what he called “résumé embellishment” while rebuffing calls for his resignation.

Separately, the Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday interviewed two people about Santos’s role in Harbor City Capital, an investment firm that was forced to shut down in 2021 after the SEC accused it of operating a “classic Ponzi scheme.” SEC interest in those people came after they were quoted Wednesday in The Washington Post describing how Santos solicited an investment in Harbor City at an Italian restaurant in Queens in late 2020.

The FEC ordinarily complies with DOJ requests to hold off on enforcement. Those requests arise from a 1977 memorandum of understanding between the agencies that addresses their overlapping law enforcement responsibilities.

“Basically they don’t want two sets of investigators tripping over each other,” said David M. Mason, a former FEC commissioner. “And they don’t want anything that the FEC, which is a civil agency, does to potentially complicate their criminal case.”

The request “indicates there’s an active criminal investigation” examining issues that overlap with complaints against Santos before the FEC, said Brett Kappel, a campaign finance lawyer at D.C.-based Harmon, Curran, Spielberg & Eisenberg.

Those complaints, including one filed earlier this month from the Campaign Legal Center, direct particular attention to more than $700,000 that Santos claims to have loaned his 2022 campaign. CLC’s complaint alleged that Santos masked the source of that funding, while also misrepresenting campaign spending and using campaign resources to cover personal expenses.

On Wednesday, the Santos campaign submitted paperwork to the FEC replacing treasurer Nancy Marks, a longtime accountant for GOP candidates in New York, with Wisconsin-based Thomas Datwyler. Datwyler’s lawyer previously told The Post that his client never signed or authorized the documents and had communicated to the campaign that he did not intend to serve as treasurer.

On Thursday, the FEC sought more information about the disputed filing. “It has come to the attention of the Federal Election Commission that you may have failed to include the true, correct, or complete treasurer information,” the regulator wrote to Datwyler in a letter requesting further information.

Datwyler’s lawyer told The Post on Friday that he plans to tell the FEC that his client did not submit the filing and that it should be withdrawn.

Marks has not responded to requests for comment.

Over the past two years, FEC analysts have repeatedly identified problems with Santos’s filings with the regulator, sending multiple letters seeking clarification or correction of apparent issues, including accepting contributions beyond the allowable limit, omitting required donor information and failing to fill out required forms to report details about the loans Santos claims to have made to his campaign.

Late last year, the offices of New York Attorney General Letitia James (D), Nassau County District Attorney Anne T. Donnelly (R) and Queens County District Attorney Melinda Katz (D) all said they were looking into whether Santos broke any laws in their jurisdictions. Spokespeople for each office told The Post this week that they had no further updates.

At the SEC, regulators alleged in federal court in 2021 that Harbor City was running a Ponzi scheme that raised $17.1 million from more than 100 victims. Santos, who was not named in that lawsuit, worked for the firm for more than a year, receiving his last payments in April 2021, the same month the SEC sought to freeze its assets, The Post has previously reported. Santos has said he was unaware of any alleged fraud by Harbor City.

Christian Lopez, who says Santos pitched him on investing with the firm at a dinner in 2020, said that SEC officials asked him Friday for his recollections of what Santos had told him as well and for any documents and messages Santos sent him.

“They were asking things like ‘What did he talk about? What did he offer you? What were the names that he mentioned?’” Lopez said.

Tiffany Bogosian, an attorney who says she has known Santos since junior high school and also attended the 2020 dinner, said she also was interviewed by SEC officials Friday.

“They wanted to know specifics of George’s involvement and the pitch,” Bogosian said.

An SEC spokeswoman declined to comment. J.P. Maroney, Harbor City’s founder and a named defendant in the SEC action, has denied wrongdoing in court. Harbor City has not responded. Maroney secured a stay last fall in that litigation after disclosing that the same matters are the subject of an active criminal probe.

Perry Stein contributed to this report.

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