Two New Jersey veterans allege that in 2016, now-Congressman George Santos agreed to raise cash for a lifesaving operation for one of their dogs, but then disappeared with the money.After lying and misrepresenting his educational, employment, and family history, Santos, the beleaguered freshman Republican, faces mounting pressure to quit. Santos has admitted to “enhance[ing]” his credentials, but he has maintained that he is “not a criminal.”
Rich Osthoff, a veteran of the United States Navy, told CNN that his pit bull Sapphire began developing a tumour in 2015, and it continued to grow throughout 2016. Osthoff stated that he was homeless and living in a tent at the time, having lost his employment and residence.
Michael Boll, the founder of New Jersey Veterans Network and Osthoff’s mentor and friend, told CNN that he took Osthoff under his wing as part of the charity’s mentorship program and sought to seek treatment for his dog.
A common friend introduced the two veterans to Santos, who informed them that Santos routinely assisted and rescued animals. According to Boll and Osthoff, they knew Santos as Anthony Devolder.
Boll stated that Santos created a GoFundMe page for Osthoff’s pit bull, Sapphire. George Devolder’s Facebook post includes a link to a GoFundMe page soliciting money for the dog’s surgery.
“Sapphire is a 10-year-old red-nosed pit bull who has been keeping this man company, she does not deserve to die because of this tumour, she deserves to be treated and cared for,” reads a portion of the Facebook post. “Will you assist this infant and her father in remaining together for a few more years? Does he not merit having her? “Let’s all work together to keep this couple healthy!” the post reads.
Eventually, the fundraiser raised approximately $3,000, according to Boll.
According to Osthoff, the situation deteriorated after he attempted to retrieve the GoFundMe funds.
According to Osthoff and Boll, Santos grew difficult, at first insisting that Osthoff transport his dog to a veterinarian clinic of Santos’ choosing, and then stating that another clinic would not accept Santos’ method of payment.
Osthoff told CNN, “I had to jump through hoops and do things his way.” “He was completely, completely difficult. One difficulty after another”
Osthoff provided CNN with text messages detailing his communications with Santos in 2016.
“Hey Anthony, this is Rich. I anticipated hearing from you. Just checking to see whether you made touch with the vet,” Osthoff says in a text message to Santos, whose name at the time was Anthony Devolder. Santos responds by stating that he “just contacted” Osthoff and that he has been “jumping through hoops.” Adds, “They are not as adaptable as you claimed,” presumably referring to the veterinarian Osthoff mentioned.
Santos lso writes that a veterinarian “had previously ruled out the surgery without the ultrasound since, based on his expertise, he believes it’s extremely invasive,” but he informs Osthoff that he will take the dog to a veterinarian for an ultrasound “to give you peace of mind.”
After Osthoff says, “I’m beginning to feel like my family and friends’ donations were mined,” Santos informs him that, because his dog is not a candidate for surgery, “the funds have been transferred to the next animal in need, and we will make sure to use all available resources to keep her comfortable!”
In another text, Osthoff adds, “I’m sick of getting pulled about,” to which Santos responds, “Remember, it was our credibility that got GoFundMe to contribute!” He continued, “We have the greatest integrity requirements.”
Santos informs Osthoff that he would not permit him to accompany his dog to the veterinarian for an inspection, but Osthoff refuses, stating, “I do not know or trust you.” Santos attempts to get Osthoff to pick up the puppy in their final communication from 2016, but Osthoff does not respond.
Osthoff stated that he accused Santos of operating a fraudulent charity, and Santos got combative.
“He became so enraged with me that he refused to give me the money and then stopped answering his phone,” he alleged.
Santos said in a statement to CNN on Wednesday, “I have no idea what he’s talking about, and everyone who knows me knows I’d go to hell and back for a dog, especially a veteran.” He described the episode, which was initially reported by Patch.com, as “simply another example of the pile-on effect.”
Santos continued, “I have hundreds of people reaching out to me with stories about their dogs and cats that I assist save and save.”
“Show it. Show us,” Osthoff said in response to Santos on CNN’s “Erin Burnett OutFront” on Wednesday. “He should demonstrate whether he has a large number of people who reach out to him and appreciate his work.”
GoFundMe stated in a statement to CNN that it removed the fundraiser after receiving a report about it.
“When we received a report of a problem with this fundraising in late 2016, our trust and safety team requested verification from the organiser that the cash had been delivered. The failure of the organiser to react resulted in the removal of the fundraiser and the restriction of the email address linked with the account from future use on our platform. GoFundMe has a zero-tolerance policy for platform abuse and cooperates with law enforcement investigations of people accused of misconduct.
According to Boll, his attempts to act as a mediator between the parties failed.
“Anthony was generally dissatisfied with everything I said and was unwilling to communicate with me,” Boll explained.
Santos ceased responding to Boll and Osthoff’s letters, and Osthoff claims he never got payment from the fundraiser.
Osthoff reported that his dog died approximately six months after his last touch with Santos.
He told CNN that his puppy, Sapphire, “was my little saviour.” “She kept me alive on planet Earth.”
Osthoff stated that he had to beg for money to pay for her euthanasia.
Osthoff stated that he notified the police over his meetings with Santos, but that “nothing came of it.”
Because Santos went by a different name when the two veterans interacted with him, Osthoff stated that he did not realise until recently that Anthony Devolder and George Santos were the same guy.
“I began seeing him on television in December,” Osthoff told CNN. When I recognised his face, I felt nauseated upon seeing him.
“It’s quite depressing to realise that he’s been given a position in which he may touch the lives of thousands of people,” Boll added.
In text exchanges received last week, Osthoff refers to Santos by his current name and asks, “George, where are my fundraising proceeds?? You owe me plus interest.” These messages were not responded to.