When Representative-elect George Santos from New York’s third district is sworn into Congress later today, he will be under a black cloud of investigation from authorities in Brazil who intend to revive fraud charges against the incoming Republican congressman.
Prosecutors in Rio de Janeiro said on Monday they will seek a formal response from Santos regarding a 2008 incident involving a stolen checkbook. Police had suspended the investigation into him because they were unable to locate Santos for nearly a decade.
Brazilian authorities will make a formal request on Friday to the US Justice Department to notify him of the impending fraud charges. The case will proceed with or without him.
One month before his 20th birthday, Santos entered a small clothing store in the Brazilian city of Niterói outside Rio de Janeiro. He spent nearly $700 using a stolen checkbook and a false name, court records show.
Santos admitted the fraud to the shop owner in August 2009, making the statement on social media, “I know I screwed up, but I want to pay.” In 2010, he and his mother told the police that he had stolen the checkbook of a man his mother used to work for, and used it to make fraudulent purchases.
In September 2011, a judge approved the charges. By October 2011, Santos was working at Dish Network in Queens, according to company records.
Santos recently denied any criminal involvement, saying, “I am not a criminal here — not here or in Brazil or any jurisdiction in the world.”
A criminal conviction, even for a felony, is not on its own an act that would disqualify a congressional member from holding office. The last time a member of Congress was removed from office for breaking the law was in 2002, when James A. Traficant Jr. was removed from the House after his conviction on felony racketeering and corruption charges.
If Mr. Santos does not present a defense in the Brazilian case, he will be tried in absentia. If found guilty, Mr. Santos could receive up to five years in prison, plus a fine.