June 1, 2023

Two months ago, Republican Rep. George Santos of New York co-sponsored a bill that seeks to clamp down on a pandemic swindle: People falsely claiming generous unemployment aid enacted to help struggling workers in the pandemic. Now, he’s been accused of the same type of fraud. 

The Protecting Taxpayers and Victims of Unemployment Fraud Act would create incentives for states to go after unemployment fraud. States individually oversee the distribution of jobless aid for their residents, and the bill would allow states to keep 25% of fraudulently claimed funds that are recovered. 

During the pandemic, unemployment aid provided an extra $600 a week in added benefits and expanded to workers who don’t usually benefit from aid, including gig workers and the self-employed.

Republicans have long sounded alarms about pandemic fraud in the unemployment system, which the Labor Department last year said spiked to $45.6 billion during the crisis as swindlers targeted the generous benefits. Earlier this year, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jason Smith, a Republican from Missouri, called it “the greatest theft of taxpayer dollars in American history.”

Santos, though, was allegedly among those who participated in the fraud, according to charges leveled by federal prosecutors in an indictment that was unsealed on Wednesday.

The congressman is accused of a host of other crimes, including money laundering, wire fraud and making materially false statements to the House of Representatives. He’s also known for his fabulations about everything from his education to work history, having admitted to the New York Times that he had lied about his background.

Santos, who was arrested Wednesday morning, pleaded not guilty at his arraignment. He was ordered to be released on a $500,000 bond and agreed to surrender his passport. 

Unemployment fraud charges against Santos

Santos signed on in March as one of 35 co-sponsors of the unemployment fraud bill, which was introduced to the House in February. 

Federal prosecutors allege that Santos fraudulently collected pandemic jobless aid from New York state while he was employed — earning $120,000 a year at a Florida-based investment firm. 

Santos allegedly falsely stated that he was unemployed starting the week of March 22, 2020 — about the time the pandemic shut down the economy — through about April 15, 2021, according to the federal complaint. Santos sent in weekly attestations that he “unemployed, available to take on new work, and eligible for benefits,” the complaint alleges.

But while he said he was unemployed, the indictment claims, Santos was collecting a paycheck from the investment firm during that time.

The amount of unemployment aid allegedly claimed by Santos: $24,744.

House Republicans brought the bill to the floor on Wednesday, the same day that Santos was charged by prosecutors. 

The irony wasn’t lost on Rep. Jim McGovern, a Democrat from Massachusetts, who spoke on Wednesday during a debate over the Republicans’ anti-fraud measure. 

“I have to point out the ridiculous hypocrisy of what’s going on,” he said. “A sitting member of the House Republican conference was indicted in federal court this morning for unemployment fraud.”

He added, “I mean, is this a joke?”

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