The FBI is reportedly in contact with a disabled veteran who alleges that Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) took more than $3,000 in funds raised to pay for his dog’s surgery.
According to Politico, federal authorities are now probing Santos’ involvement in the alleged GoFundMe scheme, which allegedly defrauded disabled Navy veteran Richard Osthoff from money collected for treatment for his service dog Sapphire. Osthoff claimed to Politico that two FBI agents contacted him on behalf of the Eastern District of New York’s U.S. Attorney’s Office. “I’m glad to get the ball rolling with the big-wigs,” Osthoff told the publication, indicating that he was “worried that what happened to me was too long ago to be prosecuted.”
Per a report from Patch earlier this month, Osthoff was raising the money back in 2016 when he was connected to Friends of Pets United — the organization that Santos led under the name of Anthony Devolder (a video recently emerged of the New York politician introducing himself as “Anthony Devolder” at a pro-Trump LGBTQ event).
After Santos and Osthoff connected, Santos — who is currently facing criminal investigations for lying about his qualifications during his run for Congress — allegedly helped the veteran raise $3,000 on GoFundMe, deleted the fundraiser, and later disappeared with the money. While Santos claimed Friends of Pets United was a tax-exempt organization that he founded in 2013, the IRS could not find a record of a registered charity under that name, according to The New York Times.
“He stopped answering my texts and calls,” Osthoff told the outlet. (The fundraiser was unable to be located in web archives by Patch.)
Sharing screenshots of his Facebook posts on the matter, Osthoff explained that his dog died in 2017 without access to the life-saving treatment it needed, and that he was unable to afford euthanasia and cremation. “I had to panhandle. It was one of the most degrading things I ever had to do,” the veteran said.
Osthoff was later helped by Michael Boll, a local police sergeant who led NJ Veterans Network, to reach out to Santos after the GoFundMe was removed.
“I contacted [Santos] and told him ‘You’re messing with a veteran,’ and that he needed to give back the money or use it to get Osthoff another dog,” Boll said. “He was totally uncooperative on the phone.”
Osthoff claimed that Santos urged him to visit a vet clinic in New York where he had “credit,” but the veterinarian there said they “couldn’t operate the tumor.” In a final conversation with Santos, Osthoff said Santos told him that the charity had put the funds to use “for other dogs” after the GoFundMe wasn’t done his way.
“Remember it is our credibility that got GoFundMe […] to contribute. We are audited like every 501c3 and we are with the highest standards of integrity,” Santos appears to write in a text message, as shown in a screenshot shared by Patch. “Sapphire is not a candidate for this surgery the funds are moved to the next animal in need and we will make sure we use of resources [sic] to keep her comfortable!”
Sapphire’s death the following year contributed to Osthoff’s PTSD and worsened his mental health, he said. “Little girl never left my side in 10 years. I went through two bouts of seriously considering suicide, but thinking about leaving her without me saved my life,” he told the outlet. “I loved that dog so much, I inhaled her last breaths when I had her euthanized.”
The pet-related news with Santos comes after the Nassau County Republican Committee called for him to resign from his position after reports indicating the newly minted Long Island representative fabricated huge swaths of his personal backstory and resume.
In December, The New York Times exposed a series of lies Santos made regarding his resume, including fabrications regarding attending prestigious universities and having worked for major financial institutions. A follow-up report by Forward found that Santos had claimed to be a “proud American Jew,” and the descendant of Holocaust survivors, despite ancestral records indicating that Santos had no Jewish ancestry.
Federal authorities and Nassau County prosecutors have initiated investigations exploring whether Santos’ fabrications and public misrepresentations constitute criminal activity. Despite this, Santos was sworn in as a member of Congress in January, and spent his initial days in office dodging reporters and sitting solo in the House chamber.
Santos shortly after recused himself from service on House committees, citing the controversy and many investigations around him as “a distraction.” Without the “distraction” of committee work, maybe Santos can dedicate his spare time to answering the many questions surrounding his lies.
This post was updated on Feb. 1 to include news of the FBI probe into Santos and the alleged GoFundMe scheme.