The FBI is reportedly looking into allegations that embattled Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) stole funds raised for the life-saving surgery of a disabled veteran’s service dog.
U.S. Navy veteran Richard Osthoff told Politico that two agents representing the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of New York got in touch with him and requested text messages he exchanged with Santos in 2016 about the incident.
Osthoff has said he was connected that year to Friends of Pets United charity, which was run by Santos under the name Anthony Devolder. The veteran hoped to find the $3,000 he needed to pay for surgery for his service dog, Sapphire, who had a life-threatening stomach tumor.
Osthoff and another New Jersey veteran, retired police Sgt. Michael Boll, told Patch that the now-congressman offered to set up a GoFundMe page for the dog in May 2016. But once the fundraiser reached its goal, he disappeared with the funds, they alleged.
Osthoff said he contacted Santos to schedule the medical procedure; Santos suggested going to another vet clinic he was familiar with, which then said it couldn’t do the surgery. After that, Santos became harder to contact and later claimed his charity would use the money on “other dogs,” Osthoff said.
Sapphire died the next year.
Osthoff said he was relieved that federal investigators were looking into the matter.
“I was worried that what happened to me was too long ago to be prosecuted,” he told Politico.
Santos told ABC News on Wednesday that he does not remember ever meeting Osthoff and that federal investigators had not contacted him about the reported probe.
Santos has previously denied involvement in the purported scam, calling the reports detailing the incident “shocking” and “insane.”
Osthoff shared some of the text messages he allegedly exchanged with Santos with Patch.
A Nov. 13, 2016, message purportedly shows Osthoff pleading with Santos to let him take Sapphire to another vet and reminding Santos that the funds were raised on his dog’s behalf.
But Santos allegedly hit back, claiming it was his charity’s “credibility” that got people to give money.
Santos “voluntarily” stepped down from House committees earlier this week, days after the Justice Department signaled it is launching a probe into the congressman’s campaign finances and told the Federal Exchange Commission to hold off on its own investigation.
Santos had been appointed to the Science, Space and Technology panel and the Small Business Committee.
New York Democratic congress members have also requested the House Ethics Committee look into Santos’ financial disclosures.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has resisted calls to sack Santos, but recently shared the conditions under which he would seek to remove the congressman.
“If for some way when we go through Ethics and he has broken the law, then we will remove him,” he said last month, according to The Hill, without sharing any details around the timeline of the probe he hinted at.
Santos is the subject of more local investigations in the U.S. and also a fraud case in Brazil.