$19 million yacht at center of new probe into scandal-plagued George Santos
George Santos, R- NY, leaves a GOP caucus meeting on Capitol Hill on Jan. 25, 2023, in Washington, D.C.. - Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images North America/TNS

Rep. George Santos (R-NY) brokered a $19 million yacht deal between two of his wealthy donors that has become one of more than a dozen leads under investigation by the FBI.

Federal and state authorities are investigating the purchase of a 141-foot super yacht by Long Island auto dealer Raymond Tantillo from Mayra Ruiz, a Republican donor in Miami, that was brokered by Santos, who negotiated the $12.25 million up-front payment to be followed by $6.5 million more paid in installments, reported the New York Times.

“If you’re looking at a $20 million yacht, my referral fee there can be anywhere between $200,000 and $400,000," Santos told Semafor in December, explaining that he could "put that feeler out there" for clients who wished to sell planes or boats.

It's not clear whether the transaction broke any laws, but election law experts say the sale may have violated regulations capping campaign contributions if the sale was designed to funnel money into the newly elected congressman's campaign, and it might have been illegal if Santos tied any commission he received to previous or future donations.

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John Ruiz did not contribute to Santos' campaign, but his wife Mayra gave $10,800 to his joint fundraising committee on March 31, 2022, and was among the first to give money after he won his election.

“[Mr. Ruiz is] not interested in making any statement other than the fact that he has already publicly disclosed that he does not know who George Santos is and has never contributed to his campaigns and has never done any business with him," said Christine Lugo, a lawyer for the Miami attorney and GOP donor.

Tantillo gave more than $17,000 to the New York Republican's campaign and affiliated committees, and his estranged wife gave at least $5,000, and so did another ex-wife, and Santos approached the auto dealer in August offering to broker the sale in a free-trade zone near the Miami port, which is a common practice for boat sales.

Santos asked Tantillo for additional donations and financial help as the transaction progressed, a source familiar with the sale told the Times, but he did not provide additional funds before the election and the sale went through in September.

“I have every reason to believe that Mr. Tantillo will not be charged for anything, including the purchase of a boat or campaign contributions,” said Robert Curtis Gottlieb, a lawyer for the auto dealer.