U.S. Rep. George Santos leaves the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York in Central Islip, New York, May 10, 2023.
Barry Williams | New York Daily News | Getty Images
The secret identities of Republican Rep. George Santos’ bail backers in his federal criminal case are set to be revealed Thursday at noon ET.
Santos, the scandal-plagued freshman congressman from New York, was arrested last month and charged with numerous crimes including money laundering and wire fraud. After pleading not guilty to all 13 counts against him, Santos was released on a $500,000 bond backed by multiple guarantors, whose names were kept hidden from the public.
The New York Times asked U.S. District Judge Joanna Seybert to unseal the records identifying those people, who are referred to as suretors in court documents.
The Times argued that the law supported the public’s right to view the records, adding that the “interest in openness is particularly strong in this case” because the situation presented “an obvious opportunity for political influence.”
“That risk is further heightened by the fact that the very crimes Rep. Santos has been charged with involve abusing the political process for personal gain,” the Times noted.
A consortium of news outlets, including NBC News, followed suit, arguing, “Rep. Santos cannot overcome the presumption of openness” afforded by the First Amendment and federal common law.
Santos’ attorney, Joseph Murray, urged the court to deny those requests, pointing to the “media frenzy” that was swirling around the case.
That intense press coverage has made the suretors “very fearful and concerned,” even prompting one of the three to back out by the morning of Santos’ May 10 arraignment, Murray wrote. The lawyer argued the guarantors will likely “suffer great distress” and face retaliation if their names are made public.
“My client would rather surrender to pretrial detainment than subject these suretors to what will inevitably come,” he added.
A federal magistrate judge sided with the news outlets but gave Santos time to appeal. His lawyer then asked Seybert if it would be possible to find a compromise, such as disclosing that the suretors were Santos’ family members without identifying them specifically.
But the judge ordered Tuesday evening that “all previously sealed documents, including the Bond, are to be unsealed to the extent that the names of Defendant’s Suretors are to be disclosed.”
The judge noted that Santos can move to modify the conditions of his bail if his remaining guarantors decide to back out.
Santos, 34, is accused of defrauding his campaign supporters, lying to obtain unemployment money during the coronavirus pandemic and making false statements on his congressional disclosure forms.
He faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison for the top charges against him, according to the Justice Department.
Santos, who took office under a cloud of scandal in January, is the Republican Party’s first openly gay representative elected to Congress. He has vowed not to resign and is seeking reelection in 2024.
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