Rep. George Santos (R-NY) could face new legal peril over donations from a confessed immigrant smuggler from Italy who has close ties to his campaign.
The New York Republican accepted campaign contributions from Rocco Oppedisano, who was expelled from the U.S. in January 2019 and then arrested for piloting a yacht loaded with undocumented migrants and $200,000 in cash toward Florida, and the donations are almost certainly illegal, reported The Daily Beast.
Santos appointed Oppedisano's brother Joseph and niece Tina, who operate the upscale Queens restaurant Il Bacco, to his “Small Businesses for Santos Coalition,” and his two campaigns spent $25,443.64 at the eatery since first running for Congress in 2020, and his most recent campaign reported owing Il Bacco $18,773.54 for its 2022 Election Night party.
Legal experts noted that more than a half dozen of those expenses marked "Food and Beverage" were suspiciously reported at $199.99, which exactly one penny below the threshold that would have required them to hold onto receipts of the transaction.
"You can’t structure transfers of money in a way to intentionally get around the law,” said Jordan Libowitz, communications director for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “If someone was trying to structure and kind of lazy about it… this is kind of what it would look like.”
Oppedisano himself gave $500 to the Santos campaign on Sept. 22, 2022, despite having his permanent resident status taken away after a 2009 bust for firearms, pills and cocaine at homes belonging to Joseph Oppedisano, who told The Daily Beast he had introduced his brother to the congressman but insisted he could not recall whether he encouraged the donation.
However, FEC records show Joseph Oppedisano and another brother had donated the same amount on the same day, just days after Santos established his small-business coalition.
“There are some things on which there is no gray area on with the FEC, and one of them is donations from foreign nationals,” Libowitz said.
Santos-connected political committees also spent thousands of dollars at Il Bacco, including $4,473.07 spent on meals and fundraising expenses by Rise NY PAC, which is run by his campaign treasurer and his sister, and $2,405.31 from the account of a failed state Senate candidate who worked with a firm, Redstone Strategies, with links to the congressman.