Rep. George Santos, the embattled Republican congressman from New York, is under fire for allegations that he stole thousands meant to pay for life-saving surgery for a homeless veteran’s dying service dog. GoFundMe confirmed to CBS News it blocked the email associated with the fundraiser in 2016.
Santos has denied the claims.
Richard Osthoff, a U.S. Navy veteran, says that Santos posed as the owner of a pet charity under the alias Anthony Devolder. Osthoff told Patch that he was living in a chicken coop on the side of a New Jersey highway in 2016 when his service dog, Sapphire, developed a life-threatening stomach tumor.
A vet tech knowing Osthoff’s financial situation recommended he get in touch with Santos, who purported to run Friends of Pets United, which could help the veteran secure funding for Sapphire’s life-saving surgery, he said.
Neither the IRS nor the attorney general’s offices in New York and New Jersey were able to find any record of a registered charity by that name, reported the New York Times.
Through GoFundMe, Osthoff said that Santos raised $3,000 for Sapphire’s surgery, but when Osthoff and his dog went to a veterinary practice in Queens recommended by Santos, a surgeon told him Sapphire’s tumor was inoperable — a concern the New Jersey vet had not expressed.
When Osthoff attempted to contact Santos afterward to claim the money, he said his calls and texts went ignored, while the donations page was removed from the site altogether.
Osthoff said he texted Santos, “I’m starting to feel like I was mined for my family and friends donations,” and Santos replied that because Sapphire couldn’t move forward with surgery, the money would be put into a charity fund “for other dogs.”
Text messages provided by Osthoff to Patch show him pleading with Santos, writing, “My dog is going to die because of god knows what.”
Sapphire died in January 2017.
A post from 2016 sharing the now-defunct GoFundMe read, “Click here to support sapphire The Veteran rescue,” with the organizer of the campaign listed as Anthony Devolder,.
Retired police Sgt. Michael Boll, another New Jersey veteran, attempted to help Osthoff claim the money from Santos, telling Patch, “I contacted [Santos] and told him ‘You’re messing with a veteran,’ and that he needed to give back the money or use it to get Osthoff another dog.”
“He was totally uncooperative on the phone,” said Boll.
Santos denied the “fake” allegations to Semafor on Wednesday, writing via text message, “No clue who this is.”
On Thursday, Santos tweeted, “The reports that I would let a dog die is shocking & insane. My work in animal advocacy was the labor of love & hard work.”
“Over the past 24hr I have received pictures of dogs I helped rescue throughout the years along with supportive messages,” he said, though he did not share either the photos or the messages.”These distractions won’t stop me!”
While Santos is steadfast in saying that the allegations are false, the director of public affairs at GoFundMe confirmed to CBS News on Thursday the veracity of the fundraiser.
“When we received a report of an issue with this fundraiser in late 2016, our trust and safety team sought proof of the delivery of funds from the organizer,” said Jalen Drummond in a statement. “The organizer failed to respond, which led to the fundraiser being removed and the email associated with that account prohibited from further use on our platform.”
“GoFundMe has a zero tolerance policy for misuse of our platform and cooperates with law enforcement investigations of those accused of wrongdoing.”