The $19 million luxury yacht deal brokered by Rep. George Santos between two of his wealthy donors has sparked federal and state officials investigating the congressman’s campaign finances and personal business dealings. It got a lot of attention.
The previously unreported sale is one of about a dozen leads being tracked by the FBI, the Brooklyn U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office, people familiar with the investigation said. said.
In recent weeks, prosecutors and FBI agents have accused the new owner of the 141-foot superyacht, Long Island auto dealer Raymond Tantilo, of his campaign fundraising efforts about the boat and the deal with Santos. I am trying to interrogate
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Tantilo purchased the boat from Miami Republican donor Myra Lewis. Santos negotiated payment, paying $12.25 million upfront, plus he paid $6.5 million in installments. He also advised the two on the logistics of handing over the yacht, according to people familiar with the sale, which took place weeks before the November elections. .
It’s not clear which laws may have been broken in the deal. Some election law experts said if the sale was designed to inject money into Santos’ campaign, it could have violated federal laws governing caps on campaign contributions. It may also be illegal for Santos to tie commissions received on sales to previous or future donations.
But even if Santos didn’t break the law, the deal would serve as further evidence of a new narrative given by those in his political orbit — Santos could use his campaign for office in the election. It seems they used it not only to win money, but also as a networking exercise to get rich and make themselves rich.
Santos has denied any wrongdoing. Joe Murray, the attorney representing Santos in the potential criminal case, declined to comment, as did a spokesman for the FBI, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn, and the Nassau County District Attorney, who is working with federal officials in the investigation. declined to comment.
Santos’ campaign finances and personal business dealings have come under scrutiny after the New York Times revealed in December that Santos had forged or embellished most of his resume. The Times has since reported strange omissions in his election papers, unregistered funds associated with him, and other irregularities in his finances.
A central mystery is Santos’ sudden, unexplained surge in income, where he got the money to borrow about $700,000 during his 2022 campaign.
In his first candidacy for Congress in 2020, he reported an income of $55,000. Two years later, he reported a $750,000 salary and more than $1 million in dividends from the Florida-based Deboulder Organization, which Santos described as a “capitalization” business.
Santos, a Republican, has publicly said his company brokers deals between high net worth clients. In his December interview with Semafor, he tried to explain his work by saying that if a client wants to sell a plane or a boat, “put that feeler out there” in his contacts. and made several landings. million dollar contract.
“If you’re looking at a $20 million yacht, my referral fee could be between $200,000 and $400,000,” he told Semafor.
In fact, there was a yacht worth nearly $20 million.
In 2019, Miami attorney and businessman John H. Lewis bought a superyacht built by Italian yacht builder Mangusta, according to records. Listed for €18 million ($20 million) at the time, the yacht accommodated 12 guests and his seven crew members and featured an infinity pool, waterfall and outdoor shower. The Hindi greeting is “Namaste”.
Lewis, a Coral Gables attorney who specializes in healthcare and malpractice claims, gained notoriety last year for going public with a data analytics firm in a reverse merger with a special purpose acquisition company. The company’s MSP Recovery briefly hit his record valuation of nearly $33 billion, making Ruiz a multi-millionaire.
However, the stock quickly plummeted to $1 a share, and in June 2022, he and the company’s co-founders lent the company $113 million to cover the cash shortfall.
Although Luis did not donate to Santos’ campaign, his wife, Myra, was a particularly generous supporter. donated $10,800 to Later, she gave money to Santos first after Santos won the election.
Santos has not disclosed any of Devolder’s clients. But in December he was identified as a Devolder customer by Tantillo Auto Group (his network of Tantillo car dealerships on Long Island) and his two organizations linked to Ruiz’s family, The Daily Beast. rice field. The Daily Beast quoted Mayra Ruiz as saying her family hired her Devolder in early 2022, but didn’t provide further details.
Mayra Ruiz did not respond to a request for comment. Christine Lugo, an attorney for John Lewis, said her client “has already made it public that she doesn’t know who George Santos is and has never contributed to or contributed to his campaign.” “I was not interested in making any statements other than the fact that I disclosed. Any business with him.” “
In many accounts, Santos mixed campaign funding with personal business opportunities. Several donors describe encounters with Santos at fundraising activities, in which Santos describes deals he can broker with other donors in industries including insurance and pharmaceuticals, and offers corporate and luxury donations. We talked about donors who were trying to sell items.
Santos would offer to unite people, with the tacit understanding that he would cut, they said. None of the other potential deals described in The New York Times appear to have resulted in a deal.
Among the donors he courted, Santos seems to have become close with Tantillo, according to people familiar with their relationship.
Tantilo donated over $17,000 to the Santos campaign and related committees. His estranged wife was recorded as donating at least $5,000 of hers, as was another ex-wife. (Contribution limits for the 2022 New York state legislative election changed slightly after a state court ruling annulled the electoral votes and forced the August primary. , determined that the candidate could raise additional funding.)
In August, Santos made an offer to sell the yacht to Tantillo. The deal was struck at Coral Gables in late September and Santos offered to move the ship to the port’s free trade zone, the sources said.
Another person familiar with boat racing and Miami’s port system said boats are typically sold in free-trade zones before they go abroad, and are then taken out to places like the Bahamas where they are sold to new owners. come back.
As negotiations progressed, Santos asked Tantillo for additional donations and financial help for his campaign and other Republicans as the election day approached, the person said. did not provide funding for
Tantillo’s attorney, Robert Curtis Gottlieb, said: “There are good reasons to believe that Tantillo will not be charged anything, including the boat purchase and campaign donations.
At least one other major donor was solicited for a large donation in the weeks before the election, according to The Times.
After weeks of negotiations, Tantilo has agreed to purchase the yacht in September 2022, according to people familiar with the sale. The deal was brokered by Luis and Santos, according to emails cited by The Times.
On November 3, 2022, Namaste left her anchorage in West Palm Beach, Florida, for the Bahamas. Fifteen days later, the boat returned to Florida under a new flag (Cayman Islands), under a different name and new owner, according to port records.
Tantilo renamed the boat “Neverland”.
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