George Santos was charged in $15K case of alleged puppy-theft

A puppy behind a fence
Photo: Shutterstock

Out Rep. George Santos (R-NY) was charged with theft in 2017 in a case involving writing bad checks to Amish dog breeders.

Santos’s unregistered charity Friends of Pets United has come under increased scrutiny after much of the congressmember’s life story has been found to be fabricated. Last month a homeless Navy veteran came forward with his story of how Santos used the charity to raise funds for the vet’s dog’s surgery and then allegedly ran off with the over $3000 raised without paying for the surgery, forcing the vet to beg for money in the street to have his dog put to sleep.

Now Politico is reporting on an adoption event held at a pet store called Pet Oasis in Staten Island in November 2017 that was organized by Friends of Pets United. Just days before the adoption event, a check with George Santos’s name on it was written to Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania dog breeder Jacob Stoltzfus for $775 with the memo “puppy.” Another check from the previous week was written for $1100 to “Jesse” with the memo “puppies.” A total of $15,125 in checks were written that week with Santos’s name on them, several with memos that mentioned puppies.

“Friends of Pets United has a puppy overload … We’ll be cuddling: Golden Retriever, Lab, Yorkie, Border collie, American Eskimo and Shepherds … #adoptdontshop,” read an Instagram post on Pet Oasis’s account at the time.

Many dogs were adopted at the charity event and others like it, and the cost of adoption ranged from $300 to $400. Michele Vazzo, who adopted a golden retriever puppy at a different Pet Oasis event, said that she met Santos and that he told her that his organization rescued the puppy from an Amish puppy mill.

“The fees were always different and he always had a ton of puppies and a ton of people helping him,” she recounted.

Pet store owner Daniel Avissato said that Santos requested that the money raised at the adoption event be paid in a check made out to Santos personally, not to Friends of Pets United. Avissato refused but says that he noticed when looking at his bank records that the check had been changed to have Santos’s name on it.

By 2019, Santos was apparently having legal problems connected to the alleged puppy business. According to attorney Tiffany Bogosian, who went to middle school with Santos and agreed to help him, Santos was woken up at 4 a.m. one morning in Queens in late 2019 by NYPD officers serving him with an extradition warrant.

The York County, Pennsylvania District Court confirmed that Santos was charged with theft by deception in November 2017.

In February 2020, Santos went to meet with Bogosian and told her that his checkbook had been stolen. He said that he canceled all his checks and closed his account, but someone was writing bad checks in his name. Bogosian said she thought her childhood acquaintance was the victim of fraud.

Bogosian emailed a Pennsylvania trooper and explained Santos’s side of the story, writing: “In 2017 he received four check books for the account at his request from the TD BANK branch he banked with in Queens, NY, and of the four one went missing.”

“He immediately called his bank upon learning 1/4 check books was missing and all checks were canceled at that time, with a stop pay on all checks.”

“As such no checks were ever cashed or presented against his account due to his cancellation of all checks linked to this account. The account was closed on March 3, 2018, for personal reasons unrelated to any alleged fraud on his account (banking preference).”

She noted that the signatures on the checks were all different from the one on Santos’s driver’s license.

A week later, Santos went to Pennsylvania and met with prosecutors. According to Bogosian, he told them he “worked for the SEC [the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission]” and got them to drop the charge. In November 2021, the charge was expunged without any reason given, according to court documents.

Bogosian said she believed Santos at the time until she had another encounter with him. She had a client named Christian Lopez who won a big settlement in a personal injury case, and she connected Lopez and Santos since she believed Santos worked in finance and could help Lopez invest the money. Santos suggested an investment with Harbor City Capitol – a firm that was later accused by the SEC of running a Ponzi scheme – but Lopez didn’t invest because he thought the investment sounded too good to be true.

“I did think it was so weird at the time that his checks didn’t have his address or phone number listed on them,” Bogosian said. “After the dinner with Christian I started having second thoughts, I thought, ‘Oh, he had the animal adoptions.’ To be honest, even at the time I questioned it.”

Santos and his lawyer aren’t commenting on this story.

After he was elected in November, multiple media reports have found that much of his life story was fabricated or unsubstantiated. He didn’t attend Baruch College and New York University like he claimed, there was no record of him working for major Wall Street firms like Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, and even details of his personal and family histories weren’t true.

He was also accused of a variety of crimes, many involving theft. His former roommates said he stole expensive clothes and phones from them, a woman whose apartment he stayed in said she noticed cash go missing when he was there, and he allegedly forged a man’s signature on his campaign finance disclosure forms.

This isn’t even the first time Santos has been charged in a case related to writing bad checks. In the late 2000’s, police in Rio de Janeiro accused Santos of writing fraudulent checks for a total of $1,313.63 to buy clothes and some shoes at a store with a checkbook taken from one of his mother’s patients. He signed a confession but left Brazil for the U.S. before his trial. Brazilian authorities have reopened the case.

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