NEW YORK (AP) — When the invitation to lunch at the Empire State Building first arrived last summer, some of George Santos’ campaign staffers were wary.
The sender described himself as a deep-pocketed donor, eager to max out his contribution to the Republican congressional candidate. He signed the email Reyem Nad, an unfamiliar name in fundraising circles.
Within minutes, Santos says he discovered the truth: The message was from Sam Miele, a former fundraiser who had been fired from the campaign months earlier after he was caught soliciting donations under the alias Dan Meyer, then the chief of staff to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who at the time was the Republican minority leader.
Santos said he interpreted the lunch invitation as an attempt by Miele to get a face-to-face meeting — one he could not get if he used his own name — where he could ask to rejoin the campaign.
“We realized, ’Oh … Reyem Nad is Dan Meyer spelled backwards,” Santos told The Associated Press on Friday, using an expletive to emphasize his surprise. “My staffers called the restaurant and figured out it was Sam.”
Santos did not attend the meeting, but sent his then-treasurer, Nancy Marks, who informed Miele he was not getting his job back, according to his spokesperson, Gabrielle Lipsky.
Miele, 27, was arrested Wednesday on federal charges of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft for his alleged scheme to trick donors into giving money to Santos under Meyer’s name. He pleaded not guilty. His attorney, Kevin Marino, declined to comment on the allegations, but said his client “looks forward to being exonerated at trial.”
Prosecutors say Miele went to significant lengths to assume the false identity, setting up a dummy email address resembling Meyer’s name as he reached out to more than a dozen donors between August and December of 2021. Santos said he was informed of the impersonation in late 2021 by the real Meyer, who has since retired, and he promptly fired Miele.
The alleged attempt to set up a meeting under a reverse-alias, which was first reported by Semafor, came more than six months later and was not part of the indictment. Santos described it as a “desperate and bizarre” move by Miele.
“It’s like he’s obsessive and compulsive on that name,” Santos said. “You and I, if we got caught doing something stupid like that, the last thing we’d do is go anywhere near that name.”
Meyer did not return a phone message requesting comment.
Santos, infamous for fabricating major parts of his life story during his run for office, is facing his own federal charges accusing him of duping donors, stealing from his campaign, lying to Congress about being a millionaire and collecting fraudulent unemployment benefits. He has pleaded not guilty. The charges could carry up to 20 years in prison.
He said he was not concerned about Miele cooperating with federal authorities, “since there is nothing to cooperate against.”
Santos has blamed Marks, his former campaign treasurer, for some of the irregularities in his campaign finances, claiming she went “rogue.”
After her resignation earlier this year, federal regulatory filings indicated she was replaced by Thomas Datwyler as treasurer. But Datwyler announced he had never agreed to work for Santos.
An aide who worked briefly in Santos’ congressional office, Derek Myers, told staff of the House’s ethics subcommittee that he got his job after sending hundreds of dollars in Venmo payments to the Republican’s operations director, Vish Burra. Myers was let go after Santos’ staff learned he had been charged with wiretapping in Ohio after publishing a recording of a trial.
Naysa Woomer, the former communications director for Santos who resigned in May, said the latest allegations about deceptive fundraising acts were par for the course in the scandal-scarred office.
“He surrounds himself with people who are in the business to obstruct,” she said. “Not in the business to govern.”