US congressman George Santos, infamous for fabricating key parts of his life story, has been indicted on charges that he embezzled money from his campaign, lied to Congress about his income and cheated his way into undeserved unemployment benefits, prosecutors have said.
The indictment says Mr Santos induced supporters to donate to a company under the false pretence that the money would be used to support his campaign.
Instead, it says, he used it for personal expenses, including to buy designer clothes and to pay his credit cards and car payments.
Mr Santos is also accused of lying about his finances on congressional disclosure forms and applying for and receiving unemployment benefits while he was employed as regional director of an investment firm that the government shut down in 2021 over allegations that it was a Ponzi scheme.
Lawyer Breon Peace said the indictment “seeks to hold Santos accountable for various alleged fraudulent schemes and brazen misrepresentations”.
“Taken together, the allegations in the indictment charge Santos with relying on repeated dishonesty and deception to ascend to the halls of Congress and enrich himself,” Mr Peace said.
Mr Santos told the Associated Press on Tuesday that he was unaware of the charges.
Mr Santos was elected to Congress last autumn after a campaign built partly on falsehoods.
He told people he was a wealthy Wall Street dealmaker with a substantial real estate portfolio who had been a star volleyball player in college, among other things.
In reality, he did not work at the big financial firms he claimed had employed him, did not go to college and had struggled financially before his run for public office.
Questions about the Republican politician’s finances also surfaced.
In a financial disclosure form, Mr Santos had reported making 750,000 US dollars a year plus dividends from a family company, the Devolder Organisation.
He later described that business as a broker for sales of luxury items including yachts and aircraft.
The business was incorporated in Florida shortly after Mr Santos stopped working as a salesman for a company accused by federal authorities of operating an illegal Ponzi scheme.
In November 2021, Mr Santos formed Redstone Strategies, a Florida company that federal prosecutors say he used to dupe donors into financing his lifestyle.
According to the indictment, Mr Santos told an associate to solicit contributions to the company via emails, text message and phone calls and provided the person with contact information for potential contributors.
Emails to prospective donors falsely claimed that the company was formed “exclusively” to aid Mr Santos’s election bid and that there would be no limits on how much they could contribute, the indictment said. Mr Santos falsely claimed that the money would be spent on television ads and other campaign expenses, it said.
Last October, a month before his election, Mr Santos transferred about 74,000 dollars (£58,656) from company coffers to bank accounts he maintained, the indictment said. He also transferred money to some of his associates, it said.
Many of Mr Santos’s fellow New York Republicans called on him to resign after his history of fabrications was revealed.
Some renewed their criticism of him as news of the criminal case spread.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy was more circumspect, saying: “I think in America, you’re innocent until proven guilty.”
Mr Santos has faced criminal investigations before.
When he was 19, he was the subject of a criminal investigation in Brazil over allegations he used stolen cheques to buy items at a clothing shop. Brazilian authorities said they had reopened the case.
In 2017, Mr Santos was charged with theft in Pennsylvania after authorities said he used thousands of dollars in fraudulent checks to buy puppies from dog breeders.
This case was dismissed after Mr Santos claimed his chequebook had been stolen, and that someone else had taken the dogs.
Federal authorities have been looking separately into complaints about Mr Santos’s work raising money for a group that purported to help neglected and abused pets.
One New Jersey veteran accused Mr Santos of failing to deliver 3,000 US dollars (£2,400) he had raised to help his pet dog get surgery it needed.