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George Santos confesses to theft in Brazil to avoid prosecution

RIO DE JANEIRO — Rep. George Santos signed a deal with Brazilian prosecutors Thursday in which the New York Republican confessed to theft and agreed to pay restitution and fines if prosecutors agree to drop the criminal case against him, bringing a likely resolution in a case that has tailed the embattled politician for more than a decade.

Santos appeared virtually Thursday afternoon at the criminal court hearing in the Rio suburb of Niterói, during which he was given 30 days to pay around $2,000 in fines and $2,800 to the victim. The case won’t be dismissed until the payments are made, court officials said.

“The case ended today,” Santos lawyer Jonymar Vasconcelos said in a brief interview. “My client is no longer facing any charges in Brazil.”

The deal means Santos, 34, won’t have to fight criminal prosecution in two countries. The first-term congressman, who announced his reelection bid last month, was indicted Wednesday in the Eastern District of New York.

Santos, who has vowed not to resign, has been accused of wide-ranging financial crimes, including misappropriating donor money for his personal gain and wrongfully claiming unemployment benefits.

The case in Brazil was never so significant.

According to authorities, Santos, then 19, entered a small clothing store in Niterói called the Salt in 2008 and wrote two bad checks worth $430 for clothing and shoes, court documents show. The merchant soon after went to the police and reported it, leading to a criminal embezzlement charge against Santos.

“I remember because I had to pay that value out of my own pocket,” merchant Carlos Bruno Simões told Folha de S.Paulo last year.

Simões attended the Thursday hearing, which lasted less than a half-hour. He said he was disappointed in how little Santos will be forced to pay him.

“He got off super cheap,” he said.

The Post’s Devlin Barrett breaks down the 13 crimes Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) was charged with on May 10 and explains what could come next. (Video: HyoJung Kim/The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

In the United States, the financial crimes Santos is charged with are far more substantial. Wire fraud, the most serious charge, carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison, though experts said a penalty that severe was unlikely.

“I think it would be between 24 and 48 months,” said Chris Mattei, former chief of the financial fraud and public corruption unit of the U.S. attorney’s office for the District of Connecticut.

The extent of the financial losses brought about by the alleged wrongdoing — which Mattei estimated at about $75,000 — means Santos is unlikely to face decades behind bars, Mattei said. But the case against the congressman is strong, the former federal prosecutor said: “I think he’s in a lot of trouble.”

At a federal courthouse Wednesday on Long Island, Santos relinquished his passports and was released on $500,000 bond. He will need permission for any travel beyond New York and Washington. On Twitter, he called the proceedings a “witch hunt,” echoing the language of former president Donald Trump, who was also recently indicted in New York. And Santos sought contributions for his campaign committee, which he said would “keep me fighting for you!”

On Thursday, he dodged questions posed to him on Capitol Hill, simply replying, “That’s inaccurate,” when asked why he had received about $24,000 in unemployment benefits for which prosecutors say he was ineligible.

In addition to his federal case in New York, Santos also faces a probe by the House Ethics Committee. The panel announced in March that it was investigating a host of claims about the Republican lawmaker involving his past business practices, campaign finance expenditures and an allegation of sexual misconduct.

Stanley-Becker reported from Washington. Mariana Alfaro in Washington contributed to this report.


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