Federal and state investigators probe George Santos' role in luxury yacht sale

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Federal and state investigators are probing Republican Rep. George Santos’ role in the sale of a $19 million yacht involving two of his wealthy donors, according to a law enforcement official.

The law enforcement interest in the sale, first reported by The New York Times, underscores the far reaches of the investigations into the embattled congressman’s finances. Santos previously told Semafor he collected referral fees by brokering these sorts of deals.

How Santos – who has lied repeatedly about his resume and background – obtained the money to help underwrite his House campaign has been one of the central questions swirling around the Long Island congressman. His win last year helped Republicans obtain a narrow majority in the chamber. But Santos had been embroiled in controversy before he even entered office and is the subject of state and federal probes into his finances, along with a House ethics committee investigation.

Santos has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. On Wednesday, his attorney, Joe Murray, said he could not comment on the substance of any allegations against his client, but said: “I’m getting a little tired of all these investigations being leaked into the public.”

“It takes away from the integrity of the investigation,” Murray said.

Officials with the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office and the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York declined to comment.

The New York Times reported that prosecutors and federal agents have recently tried to question the owner of the yacht – Raymond Tantillo, a New York auto dealer – about the purchase and his interactions with Santos, including political donations.

Tantillo purchased the boat from Mayra Ruiz, a GOP donor from Miami, with Santos negotiating the payment and helping arrange the logistics, the Times reported.

Both Ruiz and Tantillo donated to Santos’ congressional campaign, federal records show. There is no suggestion that either has acted improperly.

“This is clearly a very thorough, exhaustive investigation that’s under way,” Robert Curtis Gottlieb, Tantillo’s attorney, told CNN on Wednesday. “I have every reason to believe that Mr. Tantillo will not be charged with anything regarding the boat, campaign contributions or anything else under the sun because he did absolutely nothing wrong.”

He declined to offer further details.

CNN also has reached out to Ruiz and her husband, John H. Ruiz, who was not among Santos’ political donors. The Times described John Ruiz as a previous owner of the vessel.

In a statement to the Times, Christine Lugo, a lawyer for John Ruiz, said he was “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.”

One of the biggest questions about Santos centers on the financial success that allowed the Republican to report a personal loan of $705,000 to his successful 2022 campaign. In Santos’ previous, failed bid for Congress, in 2020, his personal financial disclosure form listed no assets and a salary of $55,000.

He has said he earned the money through a firm he established, called the Devolder Organization, but he has not listed Devolder clients on his federal financial disclosures.

The Daily Beast has previously described entities tied to Ruiz and Tantillo as among the firm’s clients.

In an interview last December with Semafor, Santos sought to explain the source of his newfound wealth, describing Devolder as serving in the capital introduction business. He said that included “deal building” and “specialty consulting” for “high net worth individuals.”

Santos told the publication that he might act as a go-between between someone seeking to sell a plane or a boat and said he had quickly racked up “a couple of million-dollar contracts” within months of establishing the firm.

“If you’re looking at a $20 million yacht, my referral fee there can be anywhere between $200,000 and $400,000,” he said at the time.