The cousin of a sanctioned Russian oligarch may have deeper ties than previously reported to a newly elected Republican congressman with a long history of false claims now under scrutiny from state and federal officials following allegations of campaign finance violations.
George Santos received maximum campaign contributions of $5,800 each from Andrew Intrater and his wife, along with tens of thousands more to campaign committees associated with the Long Island lawmaker since 2020, according to The Washington Post.
But Mr Intrater – the American citizen cousin of Russian billionaire energy investor Viktor Vekselberg – also invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into Mr Santos’s former employer, Harbor City Capital, which federal regulators have accused of running a “classic Ponzi scheme” to defraud investors.
Statements from a lawsuit brought by the US Securities and Exchange Committee against the company – where Mr Santos worked for more than a year – and other statements obtained by the newspaper appear to reveal the pair developed a business relationship as Mr Santos entered politics in 2020.
Mr Santos also boasted about Mr Intrater’s investment firm, Columbus Nova, as a “client” of his during a Harbor City meeting over Zoom in 2020, according to footage viewed by The Washington Post.
“You might know who they are,” he said. “They’ve made the news on several occasions. They were heavily involved with the Russia probe. Unjustified. … But they’re a real estate company … They’re legitimate.”
Special counsel Robert Mueller had investigated Mr Intrater’s interactions with Michael Cohen, a former attorney for Mr Trump, as part of his probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and potential links between his campaign and the Kremlin.
Mr Intrater’s company paid the so-called Trump “fixer” to identify deals for his business, according to the report. The pair exchanged more than 1,000 calls and text messages between November of 2016 and November of 2017, the newspaper reported.
He also donated $250,000 to Mr Trump’s inaugural committee, according to campaign finance records. He attended the former president’s 2017 inauguration, along with Mr Vekselberg, and paid $35,000 to attend a 2017 fundraiser for Mr Trump, according to The Post.
Mr Vekselberg, meanwhile, was sanctioned by the US government in the wake of Russia’s attacks in Ukraine in February of 2022. Authorities raided his homes in New York last summer, seizing a $90m yacht and freezing his assets.
Mr Mueller’s investigation did not accuse Mr Intrater or Mr Vekselberg of wrongdoing.
The ordeal adds to a growing list of questions surrounding the congressman after his election to the House of Representatives, a seat from which he has refused to resign after calls from his own party leadership and investigations from federal authorities.
Democratic representatives Daniel Goldman and Ritchie Torres are asking the House Committee on Ethics to investigate the congressman for his failure to file “timely, accurate and complete” financial disclosure reports.
Their notice follows several complaints from watchdog groups and heightened scrutiny into the newly minted congressman’s career and funding, from admitted falsehoods about his career and education to bogus claims about his family, personal finances and religion, among a litany of other questionable statements.
Federal prosecutors and the office of New York Attorney General also are reviewing Mr Santos’s claims.
A complaint filed with the Federal Election Commission by the nonpartisan watchdog group the Campaign Legal Center alleges that Mr Santos concealed the source of his campaign’s funding and misrepresented spending to cover personal expenses.
Another group, End Citizens United, also filed complaints with the FEC as well as the US Department of Justice and the Office of Congressional Ethics to “hold him accountable for his shady and unlawful actions.”