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Order unsealing identities of Rep. Santos bond co-signers sparks prospect of jail time for congressman

George Santos

Rep.-elect George Santos, R-New York, speaks at an annual leadership meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)

Now that a federal judge ordered Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., to reveal the identities of his bond co-signers, the disgraced congressman faces a stark question: Does Santos stick to his threat to go to jail rather than expose them?

Santos ascended to the U.S. Congress trailed by controversy and criminal investigation after news reports exposed serial fabrications of his education, career, and backstory. Prosecutors opened up probes into his conduct internationally, from New York to Brazil.

In the first U.S. investigation to lead to criminal charges, the Eastern District of New York accuses Santos of fraud, money laundering, theft of public funds and false statements. In the grand jury’s indictment, prosecutors allege that Santos engaged in a fraudulent campaign contribution scheme tracing back to September 2022, through a limited liability company that he allegedly used to defraud prospective political supporters.

Other portions of the indictment allege insurance fraud and false statements in official documents. He was released on a $500,000 bond pending trial.

On Tuesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Anne Y. Shields ordered the disclosure of the identities of the bond’s co-signers.

“To allow defendant to appeal this ruling to the District Court, the clerk of Court is directed to maintain the attached decision and all previously sealed documents, including the bond, under seal,” Shield wrote in a minute order, leaving the reasoning for her decision under wraps.

The judge gave Santos until Friday to appeal the order, after the congressman’s attorney Joseph W. Murray asserted that the disclosure could put those suretors in danger.

“Here in the instant case, the suretors are likely to suffer great distress, may lose their jobs, and God forbid, may suffer physical injury,” Murray wrote in a letter to the court.

Murray signaled that his client may resort to drastic measures to keep them from facing the public light.

“My client would rather surrender to pretrial detainment than subject these suretors to what will inevitably come,” he wrote.

Former federal prosecutor Mitchell Epner cautioned against placing too much stock in the word of an accused fraudster.

“In my experience, fraudsters often make dramatic statements for effect and then back away when put to the test,” noted Epner, a partner at Rottenberg Lipman Rich PC. “It would be very unusual for the Court to remand Rep. Santos. Much more likely would be a more restrictive bail package, if he could not find sureties.”

After his election to public office, the New York Times exposed the then-congressman-elect depiction of himself as the “embodiment of the American dream” as a lie. Santos claimed he graduated from Baruch College, became a “seasoned Wall Street financier and investor” at Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, and had a registered charity called Friends of Pets United. The Times found no evidence any of that was true, and other discrepancies soon followed, including genealogy records contradicting his claims that his grandparents escaped the Holocaust. Santos acknowledged that he exaggerated his ties to Judaism, calling himself “Jew-ish.”

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."