Greenwich Time

Amish country farmers say George Santos took puppies, left bad checks

- By Jonathan O’Connell, Emma Brown and Shayna Jacobs The Washington Post’s Alice Crites, Isaac Stanley-Becker and Chris Dehghanpoo­r contribute­d to this report.

YORK COUNTY, Pa. — It was after dark when George A. Santos approached the farmer in Pennsylvan­ia’s Amish country looking to buy at least eight puppies.

He promised a wire transfer of more than $5,000 but it never appeared, the farmer said in an interview. He said Santos ended up writing a smaller check — and driving off with four golden retrievers.

“Something inside me said I just cannot trust him,” the farmer told The Washington Post, speaking on the condition of anonymity to protect his privacy.

The check bounced. The farmer, who has not previously spoken to the media, said he called police following the encounter in 2017. It took nearly two years for the authoritie­s to locate Santos back home in New York, but he was eventually charged with theft by deception, according to a brief mention in The Star, a local newspaper in York County. In May 2021, the paper reported, the case was dismissed under a provision of Pennsylvan­ia law that allows misdemeano­r charges to be dropped when a prosecutor consents and “satisfacti­on has been made to the aggrieved person.”

Indeed, the farmer said he was finally paid for his four dogs. In his handwritte­n bank ledger, he wrote: “George Santos reimburse bad ck.”

The farmer told The Post he did not think that Santos, a Republican elected to Congress in November after brazenly lying to voters about his past, should be in public office.

“Sometimes people change for the better,” he said, “but would he really, after crimes like this?”

Police and court officials said no record of such a case is available.

Pennsylvan­ia state law allows for the expungemen­t of cases that end in dismissal, which then erases records related to those cases and bars officials from acknowledg­ing their existence.

Santos’s lawyer, Joseph W. Murray, declined to comment. David Sunday, the York County District Attorney, did not respond to requests for comment.

A lawyer friend who said Santos consulted her after police came knocking gave The Washington Post copies of nine checks from a “George A. Santos” bank account, six of which mentioned “puppies” or “puppy” in the memo line. She said he told her that he did not write the checks and they did not clear his account. They were written for amounts totaling $15,125 and were dated November 2017 — a period in which Santos, then the head of a purported animal rescue charity, was holding puppy-adoption events on Staten Island. The checks and the charge against Santos were first reported Thursday by Politico.

The farmer whose complaint sparked the theft charge is one of four dog breeders in Amish country, flanking the Susquehann­a River in southern Pennsylvan­ia, who told The Post that they received bad checks bearing Santos’s name that month. The checks were used to buy golden retrievers, German shepherds and Yorkshire terriers. None of the other three breeders filed a police report or was ever paid, they said.

Shown photograph­s of Santos, two breeders - including the one with the golden retrievers - identified Santos as the man they said wrote the checks. Two others said they could not tell whether it was him because they had only seen him one night in the dark more than five years ago. All spoke on the condition of anonymity to guard their privacy.

Five of the breeders could not be reached.

Tiffany Bogosian, the lawyer friend who has stayed in touch with Santos since they attended junior high school together, said in an interview that he called her in a panic one day in February 2020, during his first run for Congress. He told her that New York City law enforcemen­t officials had informed him that he was wanted in Pennsylvan­ia regarding bad checks and needed to report there immediatel­y. He sent her copies of the nine checks, she said.

Bogosian said Santos wanted to keep the case quiet because he was in the middle of his first congressio­nal campaign. “He said if this comes out it will be a scandal,” she said.

Bogosian said she contacted a Pennsylvan­ia state trooper who had been assigned to the case. In an email, she told the trooper Santos said that he did not write the checks and that his checkbook had gone missing shortly after he opened the account.

She described Santos to the trooper as “a victim of fraud.”

She also spoke to the trooper by phone to assure him that Santos would report to Pennsylvan­ia, she said.

“I was like, ‘Listen, he’s definitely going to turn himself in because he’s running for Congress,’” she said.

Bogosian said she then advised Santos to get a lawyer with credential­s to practice in Pennsylvan­ia. Bogosian said she has since to come to believe Santos was behind the scheme, prompting her to share her experience with reporters.

The state trooper declined to comment.

After Santos was elected to represent New York’s 3rd Congressio­nal District in November, helping Republican­s secure a narrow majority in the House, news reports revealed that he lied about many aspects of his biography, including the claims that he was a college volleyball star and that his grandparen­ts were Holocaust survivors. He has apologized for what he called “résumé embellishm­ent.” He stepped down from House committee assignment­s but has rejected calls from New York GOP leaders for his resignatio­n.

The Justice Department is investigat­ing Santos’s campaign finances amid questions about $700,000 in loans he reported making to his 2022 campaign and $254,000 in payments the campaign briefly reported to recipients listed as “anonymous.” Santos’s lawyer has not commented on the Justice Department investigat­ion.

The Securities and Exchange Commission is also investigat­ing Harbor City Capital, the Florida investment firm where Santos previously worked that the Commission has called a “classic Ponzi scheme.” Santos has said he had no awareness of any wrongdoing at the company.

The farmer with the golden retrievers said Santos arrived after 9 p.m. on Nov. 13, 2017. Santos said he would pay more than $5,000 by wire transfer for eight puppies, the farmer said, and insisted that he could see via his cellphone that the money had been transferre­d.

“He was there for more than an hour trying to convince me,” the farmer said. “His tongue waggles, he talks fast. Smooth talker is how I’m going to explain it.”

Wary, the farmer called his bank, which had a customer-service line open late. He was told no payment had been wired to his account.

Santos then offered to take just four dogs and to pay by check, the farmer said. Santos said he would come back with cash for the rest of the puppies, but he never did. The Post is not specifying the exact amount of the check to protect the farmer’s anonymity.

Another farmer said he received a bad check from the same checking account on the same night for two German shepherd puppies. Shown a photo of Santos from his first week in Congress, the farmer told The Post he is confident it was the same man. After the check bounced, the farmer said he tried and failed to reach Santos by phone.

“I tried to reach him back numerous times, never got an answer,” the farmer said. “It just almost floors me that you tell me that this person is a member of Congress. . . . People like this need to be stopped.”

Two other farmers said they received bad checks from Santos’ account on the evening of Nov. 22, 2017, which matches the dates on the checks provided by Bogosian.

“What caught my attention was the check just had his name on it, it didn’t have his address or anything,” one farmer said.

Still, the farmer said he accepted a check for more than $2,000 for three or four Yorkshire terriers. The farmer said that when he went to the bank two days later, the check did not clear. He said he did not call the police because he did not think it would make a difference.

One breeder interviewe­d by The Post said he received a bad “George A. Santos” check for an English cream golden retriever. The man who wrote the check already had a carload of puppies when he arrived late at night and claimed to own three pet stores in New York City, the breeder recalled. “Obviously he was going around buying puppies,” he said. He said he was not sure whether Santos, as pictured in several photograph­s, was the same man who had written the check.

At the time, Santos was running what he described as a pet-rescue charity called Friends of Pets United, or FOPU. FOPU held several puppy-adoption events at Pet Oasis, a local chain on Staten Island, according to posts on the store’s Instagram and Facebook pages.

On Nov. 16, 2017 — three days after farmers interviewe­d by The Post received the bad checks for golden retrievers and German shepherds - Pet Oasis advertised the next FOPU event with a photo of the animals that would be up for adoption. They included golden retriever and German shepherd puppies.

On Nov. 24, 2017, the store advertised another FOPU adoption event with photograph­s of dogs whose breeds matched those taken from Amish country two days earlier.

Staten Island resident Michele Vazzo said she adopted an English cream golden retriever at one of FOPU’s Pet Oasis events that year, paying the charity $300 or $400. She said Santos told her at the time that the dogs had been rescued from an Amish puppy mill.

Daniel Avissato, who owned Pet Oasis at the time, said the store did not share in any of the money Santos took in and cut ties with him after a short period. When the store gave a check to Santos’s charity, the cashed check showed that the charity name had been crossed out and replaced with Santos’s name, Avissato said.

The episode was first reported by the New York Times.

“That’s when things got really heated and I no longer had anything to do with him,” Avissato said in an interview Friday. “We were a legitimate business. He was a con artist.”

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