The company was called Cleaner 123, and over the course of four months, it received nearly $11,000 from the campaign of George Santos, the representative-elect from New York who appears to have invented whole swaths of his life story.
The expenditures were listed as “apartment rental for staff” on Mr. Santos’s campaign disclosure forms and gave the address of a modest suburban house on Long Island. But one neighbor said Mr. Santos himself had been living there for months, and two others said that they had seen Mr. Santos and his husband coming and going, a possible violation of the rule prohibiting the use of campaign funds for personal expenses.
The payments to Cleaner 123 were among a litany of unusual disbursements documented in Mr. Santos’s campaign filings that experts say could warrant further scrutiny. There are also dozens of expenses pegged at $199.99 — one cent below the threshold at which federal law requires receipts.
The travel expenses include more than $40,000 for air travel, a number so exorbitant that it resembles the campaign filings of party leaders in Congress, as opposed to a newly elected congressman who is still introducing himself to local voters.
It is not known if the spending was in fact illegal, or merely unusual. Federal and local prosecutors said this week that they would begin inquiries into Mr. Santos’s finances and background.
Mr. Santos, a Republican, was elected in the Third Congressional District, a consequential swing district in Queens and Long Island, after a failed bid for the same seat in 2020. He has come under intense scrutiny after a New York Times investigation revealed that he misrepresented details of his education, work history and property ownership, along with a previously undisclosed criminal charge in Brazil.
The story also raised questions about Mr. Santos’s financial circumstances, which disclosures show have improved drastically since 2020, when he reported earning just $55,000 a year.
Mr. Santos has declined to be interviewed by The Times. But in the 10 days since The Times’s story was published, he has admitted to a stunning string of falsehoods. Earlier this week, he told The New York Post that he denied any criminal conduct, saying: “My sins here are embellishing my résumé.”
Late Thursday, Joe Murray, a lawyer for Mr. Santos, said in a statement that there had been some money spent “unwisely” by a firm that had been fired by the campaign more than a year earlier, but he said that all expenditures were legal. The payments to Cleaner 123 were for legitimate expenses on behalf of staffers relocating to the district, he said, as were hotels booked to lodge staff members and people assisting the campaign.
“Campaign expenditures for staff members including travel, lodging, and meals are normal expenses of any competent campaign. The suggestion that the Santos campaign engaged in any irresponsible spending of campaign funds is just ludicrous,” Mr. Murray said.
The representative-elect is set to be sworn into Congress on Jan. 3, when Republicans begin a new term with a slim four-seat majority in the House. While local Republican leaders have condemned Mr. Santos’s dissembling, those in Washington have been largely silent.
Questions arose about Mr. Santos’s residence when a reporter attempted to reach him at the Whitestone, Queens, address listed on his voter registration. Mr. Santos’s former landlord there said that he had moved out in August.
Mr. Santos told The Post that he was living in Huntington, on Long Island, at his sister’s home. But court documents, as well as interviews with neighbors and a doorman, show that she resides in Elmhurst, Queens.
Campaign disclosures, however, show that Mr. Santos paid Cleaner 123, which lists the house in Huntington as its address, nearly $11,000 in rent and a deposit. When reached by phone, a representative from Cleaner 123 confirmed that it was a cleaning company, but hung up before answering why it had received rent payments from Mr. Santos.
Many questions remain about Mr. Santos’s campaign expenditures: It is not clear which expenditures were made on behalf of staff, versus for the candidate himself. The Federal Election Commission regulations say that campaigns are not allowed to pay personal living expenses for their candidates, including rent or utilities. Several campaign finance experts said that paying rent for staff was unusual and could be a violation, though they said that the F.E.C. rarely took action in such cases.
Mr. Santos’s campaign filings show other irregularities as well: He had listed a flood of expenses under $200 — more than 800 items in total — a number that far exceeded those of candidates for similar office. More than 30 of those payments came in just below the limit at $199.99, expenses listed for office supplies, restaurants and Ubers, among other things. While F.E.C. rules urge candidates to try to save receipts for purchases below $200, they are required to keep them for all expenditures above that threshold.
Paul S. Ryan, an election law expert, said that the expenditures could be an effort to hide illegal use of campaign funds, given the leeway with reporting receipts below $200. If so, he said, Mr. Santos’s attempt to hide the pattern could put him in further legal trouble, adding: “I consider deployment of this tactic strong evidence that the violation of law was knowing and willful — and therefore meeting the requirement for criminal prosecution.”
Unusually for a candidate who was relatively new to politics, Mr. Santos also appears to have used his campaign accounts to fund trips across the country, along with local hotel stays, according to a review of his campaign expenditures by The Times.
Over the course of his campaign, Mr. Santos spent $30,000 on hotels, $40,000 on airfare and $14,000 on car services — and campaign records suggest he also retained a campaign vehicle.
The spending was funded by a campaign war chest of more than $3 million amassed by four fund-raising committees during the 2022 campaign cycle. The money came from small-dollar donors, longtime Republican contributors on Long Island and elsewhere and the campaign committees of other Republican candidates. The biggest givers lavished Mr. Santos with the maximum allowable amounts, in some cases directly, in others via a Republican super PAC or the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee.
A hefty chunk of the total came in the form of a $700,000 loan from Mr. Santos himself.
The source of Mr. Santos’s wealth has been surrounded by some mystery: He has said on financial disclosure statements that his company, the Devolder Organization, is worth more than a million dollars; the statements also show that he earned millions between salary and dividends over the past two years. But the disclosures do not name any of the clients who helped Mr. Santos earn such a fortune — an omission that could pose legal problems for Mr. Santos, campaign finance experts say.
Two former aides, who requested to remain anonymous because they didn’t want to be publicly associated with Mr. Santos, described growing concern during the campaign that the candidate was too focused on spending money frivolously and not focused enough on the nuts and bolts of the winning the election.
One consultant described the spending as a part of a persona Mr. Santos sought to build: as a man whose success had let him trade his humble beginnings for a life of high-end travel and fine dining.
Craig Holman, the government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group, said the spending was atypical. “Usually a congressional candidate tries spending as little as possible for their own accommodations and travel, because they need that money for campaign purposes,” he said. “George Santos appears to be just living a lavish lifestyle for himself.”
By way of comparison, Nick LaLota, the Republican representative-elect from the First Congressional District, in Long Island’s Suffolk County, spent roughly $900 on hotel stays, $3,000 on airfare and $900 on taxi services, according to his campaign filings. Sean Patrick Maloney, the outgoing head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, who lost to a Republican in the Hudson Valley, spent just $8,000 on air travel, according to his filings.
The $30,000 Mr. Santos’s campaign spent on hotels and Airbnb expenditures included stays in Tennessee, Virginia, Texas, Florida, California, Kansas, Michigan, Washington, D.C., New Jersey and in New York itself. Records indicate his campaign favored the Hyatt and Hilton hotel brands, expensing stays at Virginia’s Hilton Alexandria Old Town, Florida’s Hilton Melbourne, the Hilton West Palm Beach, the Hyatt Regency Orlando and the Hyatt Place West Palm Beach.
In New York, his campaign booked hotel stays at the SoHo Grand in Manhattan and the Garden City Hotel and the Inn at Great Neck, both on Long Island.
Mr. Santos’s campaign also paid for dozens of meals, including at high-end restaurants such as the Breakers in Palm Beach and the Capital Grille steakhouse in New York. He spent roughly $14,000 at an upscale Italian restaurant called Il Bacco, in the Little Neck neighborhood of Queens.
The restaurant’s owner, Joe Oppedisano, who donated $6,500 to Mr. Santos’s campaign and related PACs and whose 2020 survival in a plane crash made tabloid headlines, was unavailable for comment, according to the woman who answered the phone at the restaurant on Thursday afternoon.
The post Santos, a Suburban House and $11,000 in Campaign Payments for ‘Rent’ appeared first on New York Times.