NEW YORK – Federal authorities are investigating a military veteran's claim that U.S. Rep. George Santos raised $3,000 for life-saving surgery for his pet dog several years ago, then never turned over the money for the animal's care, according to a published report.
U.S. Navy veteran Richard Osthoff told Politico on Wednesday that two FBI agents contacted him after he went public last month with his story about his experiences with Santos in 2016.
Osthoff told the news site he gave the agents text messages he exchanged with Santos, who at the time was going by the name Anthony Devolder.
“I’m glad to get the ball rolling with the bigwigs,” Osthoff said. “I was worried that what happened to me was too long ago to be prosecuted.”
The local news site Patch reported last month that Osthoff, now 47, was living in a roadside tent in Howell, New Jersey, in May 2016 when his pit bull mix, Sapphire, developed a life-threatening stomach tumor.
A veterinary technician connected Osthoff to Santos' pet charity, Friends of Pets United, Osthoff said. Authorities have said the group was not a registered charity.
According to Osthoff, Santos set up a GoFundMe account and raised $3,000 for Sapphire's surgery but never turned it over. Sapphire died in 2017.
Santos, a Republican, has declined to answer questions about the matter and also refused to do so at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday.
In a tweet on Jan. 19, however, he wrote that “the reports that I would let a dog die is (sic) 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 wrote.
A message seeking comment was left with Santos’ attorney, Joseph Murray.
Santos is already facing investigations over multiple lies he told about his life story, work history and family background.
The congressman announced on Tuesday that he is temporarily stepping down from two congressional committees, saying in a prepared statement that he wanted to focus on serving his constituents “without distraction.”
Another veteran who worked with Osthoff in his fruitless quest to save Sappire's life told The Associated Press he could hardly believe Santos would renege on his promise to help.
“I said, ‘Rich, why don’t you just relax; nobody wants to take money away from a disabled veteran and his sick dog. I’m sure this is a mistake,’” said Michael Boll, a retired Union Township, New Jersey, police officer and founder of a group called the New Jersey Veterans Network.
Boll said he talked to Santos on the phone, telling him, “You don’t have any right to this money. Either give it all back to the people who donated it, or give it to a veterinarian Rich will choose in his area so he’d have a credit to take the dog there for treatment.
“Anthony wanted nothing to do with that and refused to take any further calls from me,” Boll said.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Brooklyn said he could not comment on whether the office is investigating the fundraising drive for Osthoff's dog.
Parry reported from Atlantic City, New Jersey.