(WASHINGTON) — Embattled Congressman George Santos, R-N.Y., was indicted on 13 criminal counts, including seven counts of wire fraud Wednesday and has defied calls to resign from office.
Federal prosecutors have accused him of defrauding donors and illegally receiving unemployment benefits during the pandemic.
Defense attorney and former Assistant Manhattan District Attorney Jeremy Saland spoke with ABC News Live Wednesday to discuss the charges.
ABC NEWS LIVE: Let’s just start with your reaction to the substance of this 13-count, 19-page indictment against Santos. And I want to first focus on the charges of donor fraud. How significant are those charges of using donor funds for personal benefit?
JEREMY SALAND: From what I understand from reading the indictment, is he really, for lack of a term, duped the public and arguably knowingly so… intentionally. So to use those monies for himself, it’s very egregious. The dollar amount may not be as egregious as we’ve seen in the past, but it’s a constant ongoing scheme that I think really puts him in the most danger.
ABC NEWS LIVE: Yeah, and that’s no doubt going to resonate with voters, as well. I’m wondering about improperly receiving unemployment benefits as well, because a lot of people in this country so rely on that and what the charges he was actually making money while he was receiving those benefits.
SALAND: You’re not going to make any friends and help your defense when you are scheming, as alleged, you are scheming to take money when people were at their most vulnerable and most desperate and needed those dollars to pay for their family’s mortgage, to pay for food on the table, [and] to keep businesses afloat. And every time, every week that Mr. Santos allegedly have signed off and said, “I’m unemployed, I’m unemployed, I’m unemployed,” and then collecting those dollars, even though it’s only in the tens of thousands, it’s offensive to the average American and rightfully so.
ABC NEWS LIVE: I know from covering cases like this that the public integrity unit will move quickly if they have the evidence. But I’m wondering, were you surprised by the speed of this investigation and the indictment? And what, if anything, do you think that says about the government’s case?
SALAND: You don’t know when this ultimately started, [or] when initiated. I think the government started to look into Mr. Santos once his lies were being revealed. And there’s been so many lies, not necessarily in the four corners of this indictment, but in terms of his conduct. So it doesn’t shock me that we’re at this point, some might argue what took so long, but the government seems to have a very strong case, at least for some of the charges, if not most of them.
Again, there [are] records and records don’t lie. Records tell the truth. And if he was collecting, for example, as we just discussed before, unemployment benefits, but at the same time depositing checks into his bank account for work, there’s really no defense to that. It speaks for itself.
ABC NEWS LIVE: So we heard Santos after leaving the courthouse today. I’m sure you saw some of that. And if you didn’t, he basically stood there in front of a gaggle of reporters and said this was the beginning of his ability to address the charges and defend himself while calling this a familiar term — a witch hunt. What did you make of his remarks, his demeanor at the time of his remarks and how he’s handling this publicly?
SALAND: This was sort of the Donald Trump peacock feather defense, “Look at me and I’m the victim here.” And it shocks me that an attorney would allow his client or her client to be so open and start saying things without having control. Because he came across as cavalier [and] arrogant. I think he said something about, this will be my book. I’m going to stay in Congress. It’s a witch hunt. Again, talking points with Donald Trump. He did himself no favors. He seemed to relish the moment, arguably, which does not really do anything for him before a judge, if there’s a conviction, to sentence him well beyond the guidelines or less than the guidelines. So he really was foolish.
ABC NEWS LIVE: If you were his defense attorney, what kind of credible defense could Santos mount based on the charges against him and based on the lies we know to be true so far?
SALAND: They are starting a three-legged race, which is difficult enough with no legs, well behind everybody. It’s extremely difficult because…the papers don’t lie. The potential witnesses, we talk about these people in the indictment, there’s a lot that he has to deal with.
But the government, when they go after a legislator, they’re very serious about it. And they do their homework.
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