Weeks after winning a district that helped Republicans secure a razor-thin majority in the US House of Representatives, the congressman-elect George Santos is under investigation in New York after acknowledging lying about his heritage, education and professional pedigree as he campaigned for office.
Santos has conceded he lied about his background, but there is also growing scrutiny over his campaign spending and whether it ran afoul of campaign finance laws.
Santos spent more than $40,000 (£33,097) on air travel alone, a staggering amount that outpaced other congressional candidates and even leading members of Congress, the New York Times reported.
By comparison, Nick LaLota, another Republican congressman-elect from Long Island, spent $3,000 (£2,482) on airfare, according to the Times.
There are also questions about whether Santos used campaign funds to pay for personal expenses including housing, the Times reported. Dozens of items listed on his campaign disclosures are for $199.99 (£165.27), one cent less than the amount required to keep receipts, according to the paper.
An unnamed aide told the Times there was internal concern during the campaign over Santos’s spending.
The top House Republican, Kevin McCarthy, and his leadership team have kept silent about Santos, who remains set to take the oath of office on Tuesday even after publicly admitting to fabricating swaths of his biography.
Santos has shown no signs of stepping aside, punting the decision to hold him accountable to his party and Congress, where he could face an ethics investigation.
On Tuesday, Santos was asked on Fox News about his “blatant lies”. He said he had “made a mistake”.
Representatives for McCarthy, who is running to become the next House speaker, have not responded when asked what action he may take.
Democrats are expected to pursue several avenues against the 34-year-old, including a potential complaint to the Federal Election Commission and a resolution to expel him, according to a senior Democratic aide who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
“We need answers from George Santos. He appears to be a complete and utter fraud. His whole life story is made up,” the incoming House Democratic leader, Hakeem Jeffries, told reporters last week. “He’s gonna have to answer that question: did you perpetrate a fraud on the voters of the third congressional district of New York?”
Questions were first raised earlier this month when the New York Times published an investigation into Santos’s résumé and found major discrepancies. Since then, Santos has admitted lying about having Jewish ancestry, lying about working for Wall Street banks and lying about obtaining a college degree.
Santos has yet to address other lingering questions, including the source of a personal fortune he appears to have amassed quickly despite financial problems, including evictions and owing thousands in back rent.
Santos’s former landlord told the New York Post on Thursday the congressman-elect and his sister left a Queens apartment in poor condition when they moved out several months ago.
“They had four dogs and they did a lot of damage to the place, so they left,” Nancy Pothos told the paper.
Santos won a seat in the Long Island area represented by the Democrat Tom Suozzi, making headlines as the first non-incumbent, openly gay Republican elected to Congress.
If Santos assumes office he could still face an investigation by the House ethics committee. The committee, evenly divided between the parties, has the authority to subpoena for testimony or documents. Lawmakers are required to comply.
Tom Rust, a committee spokesman, declined to comment on whether the committee can or would investigate Santos. Despite his actions occurring before joining the House, the committee has held that it may investigate matters that violated laws, regulations or standards of conduct during a campaign.
But an ethics complaint may end up being the least of Santos’s problems. Federal prosecutors in New York have started to examine his background and financial dealings, a person familiar with the matter said on Thursday. The person, who cautioned the review was in its early stages, said prosecutors were interested in earnings Santos accrued and were reviewing campaign finance filings.
The person was not authorized to publicly discuss details of the ongoing review and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The district attorney in Nassau county, New York, announced on Wednesday an investigation into fabrications Santos made while campaigning to represent a district that includes some Long Island suburbs and a small part of the borough of Queens.
The Nassau county district attorney, Anne Donnelly, a Republican, said Santos’s fabrications and inconsistencies were “nothing short of stunning”.
“The residents of Nassau county and other parts of the third district must have an honest and accountable representative in Congress,” she said. “If a crime was committed in this county, we will prosecute it.”
On Thursday, the Queens county district attorney said it was looking into whether any laws were broken by Santos.
“We are reviewing whether Queens county has jurisdiction over any potential criminal offenses,” said a spokesperson who did not want to be named because they were speaking about an open investigation.
LaLota, whose district borders that won by Santos, issued a statement calling for an ethics investigation.
“New Yorkers deserve the truth and House Republicans deserve an opportunity to govern without this distraction,” he said.