Politics

George Santos Denies Defrauding Dog

The dog had cancer. And it belonged to a homeless veteran. Hey, if he can survive this, he can survive anything!

An image of Santos fades into a black and white image of the Capitol on the $50 bill over which red dog footprints are walking.
George Santos and the ghost footprints of the dog he allegedly defrauded. Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images, trekandshoot/iStock/Getty Images Plus, and archivector/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

At what point does a politician’s behavior become so scandalous or embarrassing that he, or much more rarely she, has no choice but to resign or drop out of a campaign? This used to be a relatively straightforward question—something as simple as being caught having an extramarital affair could be disqualifying. But things are different in the Donald Trump-era Republican Party.

Trump, as all Americans recall very fondly, chose not to drop out of the 2016 presidential race after the release of an audio tape in which he described his enthusiasm for touching women in a way that really really really sounded like sexual assault. (He denies having sexually assaulted anyone.) This risk paid off, in that Trump’s poll numbers dipped only temporarily and he won the election. It has inspired many subsequent figures, perhaps most notably Herschel Walker, to “stick it out” in office or on the trail while “doubling down” on the denial of various allegations, no matter how credible, against them. In Walker’s case, this meant finishing—and nearly winning!—the 2022 Georgia Senate race, despite some ruthlessly credible accusations that he had fathered secret children and paid for a secret abortion.

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Into this context arrived Rep. George Santos, the Long Island Republican who has been accused of (and/or admitted to) many things since winning election to Congress in November:

• Using stolen checks to buy shoes in Brazil
• Participating in the operation of a Ponzi scheme
• Lying about having worked at Goldman Sachs
• Lying about having worked at Citigroup
• Lying about having Jewish grandparents who fled the Holocaust
• Lying about having Jewish grandparents
• Lying about being named “Anthony Zabrovsky” in order to raise money from Jewish donors
• Lying about having employed four people who died in the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando
• Lying about operating a registered charity for pets
• Lying about owning rental properties
• Lying about his mother being the first female executive at a major financial corporation
• Lying about his mother having been in the South Tower of the World Trade Center when it was hit by a plane on 9/11
• Lying about having graduated from college
• Lying about having attended college
• Lying about having been a star volleyball player at a college he didn’t attend
• Committing whatever kind of campaign-finance violation would require one to repeatedly claim to have eaten a meal that cost exactly $199.99, the highest expenditure that does not require the submission of a receipt to the Federal Elections Commission, at a restaurant in Queens owned by a man who also owns a property where federal agents once found cocaine and ammunition (and whose brother has been convicted of human trafficking)

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Santos, however, has not yet resigned, despite being urged to do so by six fellow Republican representatives from New York and a handful of others. (He also, for the record, hasn’t been charged with a crime). Is there anything that could make this man break his commitment to public service? What if he were accused of stealing money from a down-on-his-luck veteran who needed it because his service dog had cancer? As first reported by the local news site Patch:

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In May 2016, Richard Osthoff was living in a tent in an abandoned chicken coop on the side of Route 9 in Howell, New Jersey, with his beloved service dog Sapphire. A veteran’s charity gave the pit mix to Osthoff, a disabled veteran who was honorably discharged from the U.S. Navy in 2002, he told Patch.

When Sapphire developed a life-threatening stomach tumor, Osthoff, now 47, learned the surgery would cost $3,000.  A veterinary technician took Osthoff aside and told him, “‘I know a guy who runs a pet charity who can help you,’” Osthoff recounted.

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As Patch explains in its story, the alleged charity in question was the fake one, referenced above, run by Santos—who was, at the time, going by a completely different name, Anthony Devolder. According to Osthoff and a veterans’ advocate who was in touch with him at the time, Devolder/Santos raised $3,000 on GoFundMe for the dog’s surgery, provided a series of excuses for not spending it on an operation, and dropped out of touch. The dog then died.

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Santos denies the allegation and says he has no idea who Osthoff is, but contemporaneous evidence published by Patch and other outlets suggests that someone going by the name Anthony Devolder did, in fact, raise money for Osthoff’s dog in 2016; Anthony Devolder, meanwhile, was an alias that Santos was already known to have used before Osthoff made the allegation publicly.

As of press time, George Santos/Anthony Devolder/Anthony Zabrovsky remains a member of Congress and, as of this week, has reportedly even been assigned to serve on the House Committee on Small Business. For the time being, readers are advised not to respond to any texts or calls from the House Committee on Small Business seeking their social security number or other financial information.

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