A Navy veteran has accused Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., of refusing to hand over thousands of dollars raised in a 2016 online campaign to fund lifesaving surgery for his dog.
Richard Osthoff said in an interview Wednesday that a charity group linked to Santos created a GoFundMe page for his dog but never provided him with the money. Osthoff said he believes access to the $3,000 donation pot, which he said Santos withheld from him, would have saved his dog’s life.
“I was so livid that I realized that this guy is now a serving congressman. He doesn’t deserve that job. It’s horrendous that he could lie and steal and cheat his way through life,” Osthoff said.
“And now he’s somebody that we’re supposed to trust. It’s disgusting. It’s horrible. [He] should be ashamed of himself, but he doesn’t. ... He’s a psychopath.”
NBC News has asked Santos for comment. He has denied the allegations to Semafor.
“Fake,” Santos told the news outlet. “No clue who this is.”
Santos on Thursday appeared to again respond to the story in a tweet, calling it "shocking & insane."
Patch.com first reported Osthoff’s allegations.
Santos has admitted to embellishing and lying about major aspects of his biography when he ran for Congress last year. The New York Times published a story after the election that cast doubt on Santos’ real estate portfolio and a claim that he had founded an animal rescue charity that saved over 2,500 cats and dogs.
Osthoff, who was stationed in Louisiana and Washington beginning in 1998, said that less than a year after he left the Navy, in 2005, he got his dog, Sapphire, from a rescue organization to help cope with bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I was going through some really bad times when I got out of the service. My dad even told me at one point he thought I had a death wish,” he said in the interview.
Osthoff said that by 2016, Sapphire was suffering from health problems in her old age and had developed a fatty cyst on her rib cage that over a few months “got to the size of maybe two grapefruits.”
A veterinarian estimated her surgery would cost $3,000, money Osthoff said he did not have at the time.
“I was homeless and living in a tent,” he said. “I didn’t have that kind of money.”
It was then, Osthoff said, that he first learned about Santos and a charity he touted on the campaign trail known as Friends of Pets United, which a vet technician told him “raises a lot of money for animals in need.”
Osthoff said that Santos’ group created a GoFundMe page for Sapphire and that friends, family and people he didn’t know made contributions, helping him to reach the $3,000 goal.
When the veterinarian treating Sapphire said she would need a different surgeon, Santos suggested using his vet, instead, Osthoff said.
“Everything had to be done through his vets and his technicians and all that stuff at that point,” Osthoff said, adding that when he suggested going a different route, Santos began “coming up with all these excuses” about the money.
“I knew there was something up. I knew it was fishy. And he started telling me that if the dog wasn’t able to be worked on, the funds weren’t going to go to me anyway. They were going to go to another animal that needed it,” Osthoff said.
“I told him, I was like: ‘Look, I know what’s going on here. You’re mining my dog and my friends and my family for funds, and you’re putting them in your own pocket.’”
Osthoff said he never received the money raised from Sapphire’s campaign and ended up having “to panhandle” to pay for her to be euthanized and cremated.
Asked whether he wanted the money, Osthoff said, “The money doesn’t mean anything.”
“That dog was the thing that kept me alive,” he said.
Twice, Osthoff said, he would likely have taken his own life “if she wasn’t there with me and I didn’t have her to think about.”
“It’s [Santos’] fault that she passed as early as she did. I do think that she could have been taken care of. There could have been more veterinary care, something to prolong her life, even if they couldn’t remove that thing. She could have been more comfortable,” he said.
Santos has lied about much of his background and résumé and is the subject of investigations at the state, local and federal levels. In an interview last month with the New York Post, he apologized for aspects of his biography.
“I’m embarrassed and sorry for having embellished my résumé,” he said, according to the paper. “I own up to that. … We do stupid things in life.”
The Hill reported last week that Santos told reporters, “I have done nothing unethical.”
Santos has resisted calls from fellow members of Congress to resign. He was awarded seats on two House committees this week.