Embattled Rep. George Santos (R-NY) is back in the news as more people call for him to resign over damning allegations. The latest details how Santos, under the name of Anthony Devolder, helped set up a GoFundMe account for a veteran with PTSD whose dog needed an expensive surgery to remove a life-threatening tumor. This story and other damning revelations didn't gain traction until after Santos was elected, in this case, after he had been sworn in and given committee assignments.
On the evening of January 17, Jacqueline Sweet wrote an article for Patch, "Disabled Veteran: George Santos Took $3K From Dying Dog's GoFundMe." The disabled veteran, Richard Osthoff, discussed with Patch how in 2016, he had been homeless and living with his dog, Sapphire, who had been given to him by a veteran's charity.
When the dog developed a life-threatening tumor in her stomach that would cost $3,000, a veterinary technician told Osthoff that he knew someone who could help him raise funds, that someone being Anthony Devolder, who ran Friends of Pets United.
While a GoFundMe page was set up and raised the $3,000, the charity was closed and the money disappeared, according to Osthoff and another New Jersey veteran mentioned in the report, retired police Sgt. Michael Boll.
Boll is described as having "tried to mediate" and contact Santos, though he was uncooperative:
"I contacted [Santos] and told him 'You're messing with a veteran,' and that he needed to give back the money or use it to get Osthoff another dog," he said.
"He was totally uncooperative on the phone."
Santos told Osthoff and Boll that he planned to use the money to help other animals, Osthoff said. Boll told him that he couldn't do that because the money was raised specifically for Osthoff, and his service dog.
On the GoFundMe page Santos set up for Osthoff, he wrote "Dear all, When a veteran reaches out to ask for help, how can you say no [...]." The GoFundMe was later deleted, and an Internet archive website doesn't have a record of it.
After Santos set up the GoFundMe page in early May 2016, he became hard to contact, Osthoff said.
"I only talked to him two or three times on the phone," Osthoff said, guessing that over half of the donations came from people he knew. On June 30, 2016, he posted on Facebook: "We made the goal, and then some."
In addition to the lack of cooperation and the disappearance of Santos, the story gets even more bizarre and tragic for Osthoff and Sapphire.
It appears Santos was giving Osthoff the runaround, as Sapphire couldn't use a New Jersey practice but had to be brought to a veterinarian in Queens, New York, where Santos had "credit" from using it so regularly with his charity.
This veterinarian also appeared to be telling a different story than the one back in New Jersey:
"It was a tiny little hole in the wall place, but looked legitimate. The vet there said they couldn't operate on the tumor," Osthoff said, adding that he was confused because the New Jersey vet didn't express any similar concerns.
After that, Osthoff said Santos became elusive. In November, Osthoff texted him, "I'm starting to feel like I was mined for my family and friends donations."
He had one final phone conversation with Santos, who said that because Osthoff "didn't do things my way," he put the GoFundMe money from Sapphire's fundraiser into the charity to use "for other dogs."
The report also includes text messages with Santos, who, again, was using the name Devolder. However much help he may have been before, Santos appeared to take on quite the tone with Osthoff:
On Nov. 13, 2016, in texts Osthoff showed Patch, he urged Santos to let him take Sapphire to another vet, saying "My dog is going to die because of god knows what."
Santos replied, "Remember it is our credibility that got GoFundme [...] to contribute. We are audited like every 501c3 and we are with the highest standards of integrity."
"Sapphire is not a candidate for this surgery the funds are moved to the next animal in need and we will make sure we use of resources [sic] to keep her comfortable!"
Santos said in a text message he would take Sapphire for an ultrasound, but Osthoff couldn't come, and it couldn't be done at the New Jersey office recommended by the Howell veterinarian because they wouldn't accept his organization's funding method. Osthoff doesn't know exactly what funding method Santos was referring to.
"And your [sic] not coming for the ride FOPU will handle this from now on only with the animal! We do not drive people around nor do we give them rides we transports animals in need not needy owners," Santos texted Osthoff.
In December, The New York Times reported that the charity was not a registered nonprofit.
After that conversation, "he wouldn't pick up the phone," Osthoff said, and the GoFundMe was gone. He tried to reach out to GoFundMe, but didn't get a response, he said.
The full details of the charity's activities are not known. Santos created a Facebook group for the charity around 2015, where group members shared images of dogs who needed foster homes or donations. The Facebook group was archived around 2020, according to Barbara Hurdas, who met Santos when she worked with him at a Dish Network call center in Queens in 2011, and remembered him starting FOPU and sharing it on social media after he left Dish in 2012. Facebook groups cannot be deleted, but an archived group becomes inaccessible to anyone besides its members, and Hurdas reported that the name of the group was changed to "The End."
Santos also posted GoFundMe fundraisers for dogs needing medical care on his now-deleted personal Facebook page, mostly toy breeds with stories of medical issues, Hurdas said.
Ultimately, Sapphire died on January 15, 2017. Osthoff couldn't afford the dog's euthanasia and cremation and is quoted as saying, "I had to panhandle. It was one of the most degrading things I ever had to do." The report closes with Osthoff speaking of Sapphire, who said he was "crying his eyes out remembering Sapphire's last day."
"Little girl never left my side in 10 years. I went through two bouts of seriously considering suicide, but thinking about leaving her without me saved my life. I loved that dog so much, I inhaled her last breaths when I had her euthanized," he's quoted as saying.
Boll is quoted as saying, "Luckily [Osthoff] was able to get a new service dog right away."
The New York Times report from last December appears to have set in motion all these questions about whether or not Santos is fit to hold office. "When Osthoff and Boll saw Santos on television in December 2022 after the scandal around his admitted resume fabrications broke, they called each other, shocked to see the Anthony Devolder who took the fundraiser money years ago," the Patch report mentions.
Santos was also in the news on Wednesday and Thursday over claims that he was a drag queen in Brazil who went by "Kitara." The same name of Anthony Devolder is also mentioned.
Santos has denied the truth of both stories in separate tweets on his Twitter account, having responded first to the drag queen reports.
The most recent obsession from the media claiming that I am a drag Queen or “performed” as a drag Queen is categorically false.— George Santos (@Santos4Congress) January 19, 2023
The media continues to make outrageous claims about my life while I am working to deliver results.
I will not be distracted nor fazed by this.
The reports that I would let a dog die is 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.— George Santos (@Santos4Congress) January 19, 2023
These distractions won’t stop me!