Santos ex-campaign fundraiser pleads guilty to defrauding donors

By Luc Cohen

CENTRAL ISLIP, New York (Reuters) -A former fundraiser for indicted U.S. Representative George Santos pleaded guilty to defrauding campaign donors on Tuesday, adding to the pressure on the embattled New York Republican.

At a hearing in federal court in Long Island, Samuel Miele, 27, admitted to impersonating a staffer for another member of congress in soliciting campaign contributions and to charging donors’ credit cards without their consent.

U.S District Judge Joanna Seybert accepted the plea to one count of wire fraud, part of an agreement with federal prosecutors, and set Miele’s sentencing for April 30.

“Defrauding potential political contributors undermines our democracy,” Breon Peace, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said in a statement.

There was no indication that Miele was cooperating with prosecutors’ probe of Santos.

Santos’ lawyer, Joseph Murray, was present at the hearing. He declined to comment on Miele’s guilty plea.

Santos, a first-term congressman, in May pleaded not guilty to federal charges of laundering funds to pay for his personal expenses, illegally receiving unemployment benefits, and lying to the House of Representatives about his assets. 

He pleaded not guilty in October to an updated indictment accusing him of charging campaign donors’ credit cards without their consent and reporting a bogus $500,000 campaign loan.

A trial is set for Sept. 9, 2024. Santos has admitted to lying about much of his resume but has resisted calls for his resignation, including from fellow Republicans. 

Miele, who was charged in August, had previously pleaded not guilty.

At the hearing, Miele said that in 2021 he pretended he was chief of staff to the then minority leader of the U.S. House of Representatives to help the candidate he was working for raise funds, without naming either politician.

Former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has confirmed media reports that said Miele impersonated one of his aides to elicit contributions to Santos’ campaign.

Miele took a 15% cut on funds raised through the scheme, prosecutors said. On Tuesday, he agreed to pay nearly $110,000 in restitution and forfeit nearly $70,000.

“He’s recognized the mistake that he made,” defense lawyer Kevin Marino told reporters after the hearing.

Miele is the second person close to Santos to plead guilty to federal charges in recent weeks. Nancy Marks, Santos’ former campaign treasurer, pleaded guilty on Oct. 5 to a conspiracy charge for inflating his 2022 congressional campaign’s fundraising numbers.

(Reporting by Luc Cohen in Central Islip, New York and Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by Daniel Wallis)