Investigations and complaints facing George Santos could bring serious penalties

The congressman said he's no "criminal" and intends to serve.

January 28, 2023, 3:20 PM

Embattled New York Rep. George Santos insists he will serve out his term and has indicated it's up to his constituents to reelect him or vote him out of office, despite mounting controversy over his past falsehoods, scrutiny of his finances and investigations in the U.S. and Brazil.

Santos told The New York Post last month that he's not a "criminal" and said, "I will be effective. I will be good."

But the various investigations and complaints he faces could have serious consequences -- including expulsion.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday said that if Santos is found to have broken the law, "we will remove him," though he didn’t clarify what that removal would involve.


Members of both parties have called for Santos to resign, but the congressman says he has no intention of leaving.

His potentially stepping down has political ramifications for McCarthy, who holds only a five-seat majority.

If Santos were to leave office, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul would have discretion about when to hold a special election for his replacement -- one would not be automatically appointed -- and his 3rd Congressional District is competitive, so a Republican victory isn't guaranteed.

Criminal charges

Santos told The New York Post in December that "I am not a criminal ... not here or in Brazil or any jurisdiction in the world."

Within days of Santos telling the Post that, however, ABC News and other outlets reported that Brazilian prosecutors were seeking to revive check fraud charges against Santos from when he was 19.

A spokesperson for the Rio de Janeiro prosecutor's office said then that prosecutors intended to charge Santos with two counts for alleged fraud, including theft and the check forgery, with each count punishable by up to five years in prison, according to the spokesperson. An official in the prosecutor's office told ABC News, however, that the likely punishment if convicted would be a fine.

PHOTO: In this Jan. 5, 2023, file photo, Rep. George Santos looks on as the House of Representatives continues voting for new speaker at the U.S. Capitol, in Washington, D.C.
In this Jan. 5, 2023, file photo, Rep. George Santos looks on as the House of Representatives continues voting for new speaker at the U.S. Capitol, in Washington, D.C.
Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images, FILE

Santos also is being investigated by the New York attorney general, federal prosecutors in New York and the Nassau and Queens County district attorney's offices, according to previous ABC News reporting.

"No one is above the law and if a crime was committed in this county, we will prosecute it," Nassau County District Attorney Anne Donnelly, a Republican, said in a statement.

Speaker McCarthy told reporters on Tuesday that Santos deserved the benefit of the doubt.

"I believe in the rule of law. A person's innocent until proven guilty," he said.

Ethics action

Earlier this month, New York Reps. Dan Goldman and Ritchie Torres, both Democrats, filed a complaint with the House Ethics Committee calling for an investigation of Santos' financial disclosures, according to documents previously obtained by ABC News.

If a majority of the committee determines Santos has done something wrong, they can then file a recommendation to the full House for one or more punishments, including: expulsion, censure, reprimand, fine, denial of various responsibilities or any other sanction determined to be appropriate by the committee.


The Constitution gives each chamber of Congress the power to remove a seated member who has engaged in "disorderly behavior."

Being expelled from the House requires a two-thirds vote. With the current makeup of the House, 222 Republicans and 212 Democrats, about a third of the GOP members would have to vote with Democrats to expel Santos.

Expulsion is very rare: The last time a representative was expelled was in 2002 when James Traficant Jr., from Ohio, was removed. Traficant was convicted on conspiracy to commit bribery, defraud U.S., receipt of illegal gratuities, obstruction of justice, filing false tax returns and racketeering, according to the House Archives.

ABC News' Aicha El Hammar Castano contributed to this report.

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