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Monday, December 09, 2019

Crime

Rep. George Santos

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Rep. George Santos has been inundated with terrible publicity during his weeks in Congress, with countless reports detailing the many lies the Queens/Long Island Republican told on the campaign trail in the 2022 midterms. On top of lying about his employment and education history, Santos falsely claimed that his mother was inside the World Trade Center during the 9/11 terrorist attacks and that his grandparents were Holocaust survivors. Records obtained by NBC News show that Santos’ mother was in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on 9/11.

Despite all that, Santos has vowed to serve out his full two-year term in the U.S. House of Representatives. Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is fine with Santos having committee assignments, and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a far-right MAGA Republican, has unapologetically defended Santos.

But the negative publicity surrounding Santos is not letting up. And that includes a Washington Post report on his alleged role in a Ponzi scheme involving the Florida-based investment firm Harbor City Capital. Santos has denied doing anything unethical on behalf of that company.

In an article published on November 25, Post reporters Jonathan O'Connell, Isaac Stanley-Becker, Emma Brown and Samuel Oakford, explain, “Santos worked as the company’s New York regional director for more than a year before the Securities and Exchange Commission filed suit in April 2021, alleging that the firm defrauded investors of millions of dollars in a ‘classic Ponzi scheme.’ Santos, the 34-year-old freshman Republican congressman from New York who lied brazenly about key aspects of his biography, has said he was unaware of any fraud by Harbor City.”

New York City resident Christian Lopez alleges that Santos, in November 2020, tried to persuade him to invest in the scheme. Two months earlier, according to the Post, Santos had been awarded $2 million in insurance money because of injuries he suffered at the hands of a drunk driver in Queens in 2018.

The 35-year-old Lopez recalled meeting with the embattled congressman at an Italian restaurant in Queens, telling the Post, “I felt like we were in ‘Goodfellas,’ like we were in a mafia movie. They were like, ‘Hello, I see you are here with George, right this way.’ Bringing us to this fancy restaurant and doing all this, I felt like he was doing it to capture us…. He was saying if you give me $300,000, I am going to make you money. I’m going to make you $3 million.”

According to O'Connell, Stanley-Becker, Brown and Oakford, “accounts gathered by the Post” show a “detailed picture of Santos’ efforts to recruit investors for Harbor City.”

“In two instances,” the Post reporters note, “he inflated his own academic or professional credentials, the Post found. In addition, Zoom recordings of workplace meetings show Santos offering anecdotes about his purported interactions with wealthy people — stories disputed by those involved — for potential inclusion in marketing materials or to impress prospective clients.”

The journalists add, “Two of the people he pitched said they did not realize until being contacted by a reporter that the man they’d known as ‘George Devolder’ was the newly elected congressman who, among other things, falsely claimed that his mother was working in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. ‘Devolder’ was Santos’ mother’s surname.”

Al Conard, a real estate agent from Minnesota, told the Post that he lost $50,000 to Harbor City and that George Santos and George Devolder are the same person.

“In internal Harbor City meetings,” the Post reporters note, “Santos refined his pitch, breezily offering stories he said he could tell investors to demonstrate his credentials or lighten the mood, according to the Zoom recordings obtained by the Post. Some of the tales were self-deprecating, but they delivered the same message: that he operated in the orbit of the rich and powerful.”

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

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Internal Revenue Service headquarters in Washington, D.C.

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House Republicans voted on Monday to cut funding for the Internal Revenue Service's efforts to crack down on tax evasion by wealthy individuals and large corporations. An estimate by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office predicts the bill would cost the government more than $185 billion in lost revenue over the next decade — all money that the Treasury Department is owed by individual and corporate taxpayers.

The Family and Small Business Taxpayer Protection Act, which passed the House along party lines, 221-210, would cancel $71 billion in funds over 10 years. The funding, already appropriated in the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act to modernize and boost enforcement by the IRS, is expected to be more than offset by the additional collected revenue. In total, the CBO estimates the GOP cuts would actually result in the government ending up $114 billion poorer.

The $71 billion is set to allow the cash-strapped agency to replace retiring staff, modernize systems, and improve enforcement of existing tax laws. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen ordered in August that the funds not be used to audit anyone making under $400,000 a year.

But Republican lawmakers unanimously opposed the Inflation Reduction Act, with many falsely claiming that its IRS funding would be used to hire an "army" of 87,000 new agents to "spy on" and target the middle class and small businesses with audits. In reality, much of the money would go to replace the 50,000 IRS employees eligible to retire within five years.

After the GOP won a narrow majority in the midterm elections, incoming Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy announced that his caucus' first priority would be to "repeal the 87,000 IRS agents."

The vote to cut funding to the IRS came just days after McCarthy, as one of his concessions to far-right critics within his own party whose votes he needed to become speaker, agreed to push a 10-year plan to balance the federal budget. Such a plan would require draconian spending cuts, likely including a reduction in spending on safety net programs like Social Security and Medicare.

Enactment of the legislation would make that job even more difficult, requiring another $114 billion in cuts to federal programs to offset the cuts in federal tax revenue. Republicans have pushed to protect defense spending, meaning these cuts would likely have to come from discretionary spending on domestic programs.

The Center for a Responsible Federal Budget, a fiscally conservative nonprofit, warned Monday that passage of the bill "would increase deficits by more than $100 billion over the next decade while encouraging tax cheating, expanding the tax gap, and undermining a policy supported by every President since Ronald Reagan, including Donald Trump." The annual tax gap is the difference between what is owed to the IRS and what is actually paid on time.

Chuck Marr, vice president for federal tax policy for the progressive Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, also blasted the bill, calling it "a misleading gambit to protect interests of wealthy tax cheats."

"A key element of a healthy, functioning democracy is a transparent tax system that is fairly enforced so that people and corporations pay what they owe and the well-heeled and powerful cannot flout their responsibility to pay their taxes," Marr wrote. "Efforts to protect wealthy tax cheats and purposely undermine the IRS's ability to enforce tax laws are anti-democratic and should be resoundingly rejected."

White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain retweeted media coverage of the CBO's scoring on Monday, observing that the GOP bill was "Good for tax cheats, bad for the economy."

President Joe Biden said he plans to veto the legislation, though it's unlikely to reach his desk with a Democratic-controlled Senate.

Reprinted with permission from American Independent.