A former campaign staffer for Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., pleaded guilty Tuesday to a federal wire fraud charge stemming from his work for the embattled congressman.
Samuel Miele, 27, was charged in August with wire fraud and identity theft for having posed as a top aide to then-House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., while he was raising money for Santos' 2022 campaign.
Prosecutors said Miele used the aide's identity with over a dozen potential donors, raising money for Santos while enriching himself through 15% commissions on each donation. In his plea, Miele also admitted that he charged credit cards without authorization for contributions to the campaigns of "Candidate #1" — Santos — and other campaigns, as well as himself, prosecutors said.
In a plea form filed with the judge, Miele said that from August to December 2021, "I pretended I was the Chief of Staff to the Speaker of the House of Representatives in some telephone calls and emails with potential donors, including an email on August 19, 2021, which used interstate wires. I did that to help me raise funds for the congressional campaign I was working on."
"In addition, between November of 2020 and January of this year, I caused approximately $100,000 to be charged to several donors’ credit cards without their permission. I used some of those funds as donations to a candidate for Congress and some for my own expenses," Miele said on the form.
Breon Peace, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said in a statement that Miele had “used fraud and deceit to steal more than one hundred thousand dollars from his victims, funneling this money into the campaign committees of candidates for the House, and into his own pockets.”
As part of the plea deal, prosecutors said, Miele agreed to pay $109,171 in restitution, $69,136 in forfeiture and $470,000 to a campaign contributor. He also faces a maximum of 20 years behind bars when he's sentenced April 30.
Santos' attorney, Joe Murray, was in court to watch the proceeding and declined to comment to NBC New York afterward.
Miele's lawyer, Kevin Marino, wouldn't say whether his client was cooperating with the investigation. "Mr. Miele has accepted responsibility" for his actions and "looks forward to putting this behind him," Marino told NBC New York.
Santos' office didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
Prosecutors said Miele sent Santos a letter last year trying to explain his actions. The indictment said that in the letter Miele acknowledged "faking" his "identity to a big donor" but that Miele also described himself as "high risk, high reward in everything I do.'"
Last month, Santos' former campaign treasurer, Nancy Marks, pleaded guilty to charges that implicated Santos in wrongdoing, including falsifying campaign forms so he could get matching funds he wasn't entitled to.
Santos, who had been charged in May with 13 criminal counts, was hit with 10 additional charges in a superseding indictment days after Marks’ plea.
He has pleaded not guilty to all charges and maintained he's the victim of a politically motivated "witch hunt."
Santos, who has acknowledged fabricating and exaggerating chunks of his background, survived an effort this month by his fellow House Republicans from New York to expel him from Congress.