(Bloomberg) -- A former fundraiser for US Representative George Santos pleaded guilty to wire fraud related to campaign donations, increasing pressure on the New York congressman as he faces his own corruption charges and efforts to expel him from Congress.
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Samuel Miele, 27, is the second campaign aide to admit criminal wrongdoing in the mushrooming case against Santos, the 35-year-old Republican from Long Island who gained notoriety for falsifying large parts of his resume during his 2022 campaign.
Miele told US District Judge Joanna Seybert on Tuesday he impersonated the chief of staff for then-House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy in emails soliciting donations and that he made unauthorized credit card charges “to support the candidate’s campaign and to enrich myself.” Miele said he collected a 15% commission on the funds he raised.
“I did that to help raise funds for a congressional campaign,” Miele said during the court hearing. “I also caused approximately $100,000 to be charged to several donors credit cards,” adding later, “I knew when I did this that I was committing campaign fraud.”
Prosecutor Laura Zuckerwise said Miele caused more than $100,000 in unauthorized credit card charges. As part of his plea agreement, he will pay $109,171 in restitution, forfeit $69,136 and make a separate $470,000 payment to a contributor, according to a statement from the US Attorney in Brooklyn.
“Defrauding potential political contributors undermines our democracy, and we will vigorously prosecute such conduct,” Breon Peace, the US attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said in a statement.
Seybert said Miele faces a sentence of between 27 to 33 months in prison when he’s sentence April 30, 2024.
Miele’s lawyer, Kevin Marino, told reporters after the hearing that his client “recognizes that what he did here was a mistake and he’s done the right thing acknowledging and accepting responsibility.”
Santos has been accused of fraud and campaign finance violations during his 2022 campaign. Federal prosecutors say he misrepresented the source of campaign funds and used them for personal expenses. Part of the alleged conspiracy involved inflating his fundraising numbers to get more money from the National Republican Campaign Committee.
Joseph Murray, a lawyer for Santos, who was in court for the Miele hearing, declined to comment.
The congressman is scheduled to go on trial in September, two months before appearing on the ballot for reelection. The charges also include allegations that he fraudulently claimed unemployment benefits, filed false financial disclosure reports to the House and stole money from donors by charging their credit cards without authorization.
Former Santos campaign treasurer Nancy Marks also pleaded guilty to campaign finance-related charges last month.
Santos has repeatedly proclaimed his innocence. He’s vowed to remain in office and to run for reelection next year — even if convicted.
Republicans in the House, where the party has a narrow majority over Democrats, have twice fought back efforts to expel him from Congress. An investigation from the House Ethics Committee — expected as soon as this week — could provide another opportunity for the chamber to revisit the issue.
Santos’s legal troubles represent a headache for new House Speaker Mike Johnson, who is trying to pass a short-term spending deal to avoid a government shutdown despite opposition from hard-line conservatives. Discontent over McCarthy’s handling of a similar spending bill in September led to his ouster as speaker.
Johnson can only afford to lose three Republican votes if Democrats are united against a bill, which makes Santos a critical member of the GOP majority. “We have no margin for error,” Johnson said shortly after being elected speaker, saying it was inappropriate to expel a member who hadn’t been convicted of a crime.
The case is US v. Miele, 23-cr-327, US District Court, Eastern District of New York (Central Islip).
(Updates with money Miele agreed to forfeit under the plea deal.)
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