A federal judge Tuesday granted media organizations’ requests to unseal the names of the people who cosigned Rep. George Santos’s (R-N.Y.) $500,000 bond in his criminal fraud case.
The order is a blow to Santos, whose attorney Monday asked a judge to keep the names of the bond cosigners sealed. The congressman’s lawyer, Joseph Murray, expressed concern for the sponsors should their identities be revealed, citing a “media frenzy” around the Santos case.
“If this Court is so inclined to unseal the sureties, we truly fear for their health, safety and well being,” Murray said.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Anne Shields gave Santos until noon Friday to appeal the ruling, ordering the names to remain under seal in the meantime.
Murray previously indicated Santos would rather go to jail ahead of trial rather than allow the suretors to face the public attention.
“My client would rather surrender to pretrial detainment than subject these suretors to what will inevitably come,” Murray said.
Federal prosecutors took no position on the unsealing request.
The Hill has reached out to Murray for comment.
Santos declined to comment when reached in the Capitol on Tuesday, and would not say if he plans to appeal the ruling. Asked why it is so important to protect the identities of the cosigners, he responded, “because it is.”
Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., speaks to reporters outside after an effort to expel him from the House, at the Capitol in Washington, May 17, 2023. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
Santos faces 13 criminal charges over three alleged schemes that accuse him of misleading campaign donors, fraudulently receiving unemployment benefits and lying on financial disclosures. He pleaded not guilty and was released ahead of trial on the $500,000 bond.
The congressman has been at the center of a political firestorm since before he was sworn into office amid questions about his finances and biography. He faces calls to resign and to be expelled but has remained adamant that he does not plan to step down from Congress.
The controversy surrounding him escalated last month when the House voted to refer a resolution to expel Santos to the House Ethics Committee, punting on the question of whether or not the New York Republican should remain in office.
The vote, however, was largely redundant, since the Ethics panel has been investigating Santos since March. In a statement that month, the committee said it was looking into whether Santos “engaged in unlawful activity with respect to his 2022 congressional campaign; failed to properly disclose required information on statements filed with the House; violated federal conflict of interest laws in connection with his role in a firm providing fiduciary services; and/or engaged in sexual misconduct towards an individual seeking employment in his congressional office.”
Last month, the panel asked for information on the individuals who sponsored Santos’s bond.
The request — outlined in a letter dated May 13 that was first made public Monday — asks Santos to identify the individuals who co-signed his bond, inform the committee of any payments made on his behalf to the co-signers as compensation, lay out any exceptions to House rules that the congressman believes applies to the bond guarantors and provide all documents related to the bond, including communications with the co-signers.
In a May 31 letter — the deadline set by the panel — Santos’s attorney, Joseph Murray, requested that the congressman receive a 30-day extension to respond to the committee’s request while noting that he was unable to share the requested information with the panel until it is unsealed by the court.
He said, however, that if the court ultimately decides to unseal the identities of the sureties and relevant documentation — which it did Tuesday — he would share the information with the panel.
“Please understand that unless or until such time that the Court unseals the identities of the suretors, the surety records, and proceedings, I cannot share that information with this Honorable House Ethics Committee,” Murray told the committee.
“If the Court decides to unseal the identities of the sureties, the surety records and proceedings, I will share that information with the Committee. If, however, the Court upholds the sealing, I will also share that Order with this Committee,” he added.
Murray did, however, cite the House rules definition of a “gift,” arguing that his bond fits that description.
“Under this definition the surety co-signer of an unsecured appearance bond may be considered a ‘favor’ or ‘other item having monetary value,’” he wrote.
He also outlined the rule that says gift restrictions do not apply to relatives.
Murray said Santos has conducted himself in an ethical manner as it pertains to the suretors of his bond. His letter also referenced exceptions for gifts given by relatives.
“I firmly believe that Congressman Santos has conducted himself honorably, lawfully, and ethically in keeping with the good order and finest traditions of an honorable members of the United States House of Representatives, in the manner in which the suretors who cosigned the unsecured $500,000.00 appearance bond, under oath in court were engaged,” Murray said.
Updated at 5:51 p.m. EDT.