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George Santos Under Investigation For Brokering $19 Million Yacht Deal Between Donors, Report Says

Forbes 3/15/2023 Sara Dorn, Forbes Staff


Federal and state investigators are probing a $19 million yacht sale Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) brokered between two of his donors, The New York Times reported, part of a sweeping probe into the embattled congressman’s campaign finances—though it’s unclear if Santos violated any laws in arranging the deal.

Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., leaves a House GOP conference meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File) Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved © Provided by Forbes Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., leaves a House GOP conference meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File) Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Key Facts

Santos reportedly arranged for Long Island auto dealer Raymond Tantillo to buy the 141-foot superyacht from Mayra Ruiz, the wife of Miami lawyer and businessman John Ruiz, in September, the Times reported Wednesday, citing sources familiar with the investigation.

Tantillo donated more than $17,000 to Santos’ campaign and committees supporting him, while his wife and ex-wife gave $5,000 each, according to the Times, which reported that Mayra Ruiz gave $10,800 to Santos’ joint fundraising committee in March last year.

Santos asked Tantillo for additional donations during the yacht sale negotiations, the Times reported, citing a person familiar with the sale, but Tantillo did not grant the request.

Santos previously alluded to his yacht-dealing ventures in an interview with Semafor, suggesting it helped explain the source of his sudden wealth (he reported earning a $750,000 salary and $1 million in dividends during his most recent campaign for Congress, a sharp increase from the $55,000 salary he claimed in 2020).

Nassau County prosecutors are working with the FBI and federal investigators to probe the sale as part of their investigation into allegations of possible campaign finance violations by Santos, according to the Times.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York and the Nassau County prosecutor’s office declined to comment when reached by Forbes.

Santos’ lawyer, Joe Murray, also declined to comment, citing the “open investigation,” of which he said he has no knowledge of other than what was reported by the Times.

Forbes has reached out to the FBI and lawyers for Tantillo and Ruiz.

What We Don’t Know

It’s unclear if Santos broke any laws in arranging the sale, but experts told the paper he could be in violation of federal election laws if it was somehow tied to campaign contributions.

Chief Critic

A lawyer for John Ruiz, Christine Lugo, told the Times that Ruiz does not know Santos, “never contributed to his campaigns and has never done any business with him.” A lawyer for Tantillo, Robert C. Gottlieb, told the paper that he is confident his client will “not be charged for anything, including the purchase of a boat or campaign contributions.” Federal Election Commission filings confirm somebody named Mayra Ruiz donated $10,800 to Santos’ committee last March.

Key Background

Santos, who was elected in November, has admitted to lying about key aspects of his resume and personal background after the Times revealed a slew of contradictory evidence in December that cast doubt on his claims, including that his mother survived the 9/11 terrorist attacks and that he is Jewish. He also faces allegations of irregularities in his campaign finance statements that could amount to violations of federal campaign finance laws. Following the revelations, Santos faced calls for his resignation from a coalition of his Republican colleagues in Congress, along with the Nassau County Republican party, but he has refused to step down.

What To Watch For

The House Ethics Committee announced earlier this month it voted to open an investigation into Santos’ campaign finances, along with allegations of sexual misconduct raised by a would-be staffer. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has said Congress will seek to remove Santos from office if he is found guilty during the Ethics process, though expelling him from the House will require a two-thirds vote. Santos has repeatedly claimed he did not break any laws and filed paperwork on Tuesday to run for re-election in 2024.

Further Reading

Santos Under House Ethics Investigation For Financial Claims And Sexual Misconduct Allegation (Forbes)

House Ethics Committee Opens Santos Investigation: Here’s Everything The Embattled Congressman Has Lied About (Forbes)

George Santos Files For 2024 Reelection (Forbes)

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