When Rep. George Santos of New York was 24, he did something that many millions of people do each year: He got married.
That marriage, to a Brazilian woman, would last seven years. In that time, Santos began to lay the groundwork for a largely fictional life story, moving back and forth between New York and Florida, working sporadic jobs that he later falsely inflated into a successful Wall Street career, and navigating a handful of evictions. He would also date men — even proposing to one in 2014.
By 2019, Santos was divorced, not long before he launched his first congressional campaign. But the old relationship drew new scrutiny on Wednesday, via a letter filed with ethics watchdogs in the House of Representatives requesting an investigation into whether Santos has violated federal immigration laws.
The request was made by Malcolm Lazin, an LGBTQ rights activist and former federal prosecutor, to the House Ethics Committee and Office of Congressional Ethics. It is the latest in a torrent of scrutiny of Santos, who made history as the first openly gay non-incumbent Republican to be elected to Congress.
Lazin does not claim to have any firsthand knowledge or clear evidence that Santos’ marriage was a sham, instead appending a series of details from news reports that suggest that the couple lived separate lives, including the fact that Santos dated men during his marriage.
During the marriage, Santos’ wife obtained citizenship through her husband, a U.S. citizen. Immigration officials have given no indication that the marriage raised any red flags.
Santos’ lawyer, Joe Murray, declined to comment.
Santos, a Republican who represents parts of Long Island and Queens, is facing multiple inquiries over lies about his background during his two runs for office, his personal financial disclosures, and questionable patterns in his campaign’s fundraising and spending.
The House Ethics Committee, a bipartisan group of representatives, has already been asked to look at Santos’ financial disclosures and potential ethics violations related to his short time in office. Santos has said he would cooperate with the committee’s investigation.
In an interview in December with the political publication City & State, Santos suggested that he was not openly gay when he first married. “I did marry young, and I married a young woman at the time, and we pretty much were in love,” he said.
But, he continued, the relationship ended after he decided to come out. “I set myself free and I set her free,” he said, adding that the split had been somewhat contentious and preceded a long period before his divorce. He is now in a committed relationship with a man.
Still, friends, former roommates and co-workers said in interviews that Santos identified as gay for his entire adult life and that he was dating men during the period in which he was married to his ex-wife.
One of those men, Pedro Vilarva, recalled that Santos had proposed to him in 2014. He said that the couple lived together for several months but separated after Vilarva discovered that Santos was wanted by Brazilian authorities for check fraud.
The marriage became a source of tension for Santos during his recent congressional run. Santos did not disclose the marriage to people working on his campaign, they said, until an internal vulnerability study commissioned by the campaign identified it as a potential issue for voters.
A copy of the study reviewed by The New York Times called the marriage “questionable,” pointing to the fact that Santos dated men while he was married.
Santos has been an outspoken critic of illegal immigration, though he has at times supported giving permanent residency to those who came to the United States as children under the DACA program.
Public records obtained by the nonprofit group Reclaim the Records indicate that Santos was married in 2012 in Manhattan. But in May 2013, court records show, one of the parties moved to dissolve the marriage, though the effort was dropped in December of that year.
In March 2014, Santos filed a family-based immigration petition for his wife on the basis of their marriage, according to an official timeline of their case shared with The New York Times. The petition was approved in July, and she was granted conditional permanent residence. Such an approval is typically considered an official acknowledgment that the relationship is valid, and is based on interviews, documents, such as a marriage license, bills and other proof of cohabitation and wedding photographs.
In July 2016, after the required two years had passed, Santos’ wife filed a form with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to remove conditions. The request was approved in October 2017, and the ex-wife became a legal permanent resident. In August 2022, she became a U.S. citizen, according to the timeline.
In October 2022, she filed a petition to sponsor her new husband, who is also Brazilian, for a green card, according to the timeline. That matter is pending.
If officials were to find that Santos entered into the marriage in order to obtain citizenship for his wife he could face up to five years in prison, and his former wife could be deported.
Attempts to reach Santos’ ex-wife in New Jersey have been unsuccessful, and divorce cases in New York are sealed.
There is no indication that authorities noted anything out of the ordinary about Santos’ marriage during their initial review.
Lazin, who leads the Equality Forum, said that he filed the complaint in his personal capacity, after consulting with an immigration lawyer. He served as a federal prosecutor in Pennsylvania in the 1970s and later ran a state commission investigating organized crime.
In the letter, Lazin wrote that Santos planned a party to celebrate his engagement to Vilarva while still married, as reported by The Daily Beast, and offered to marry another man to help him get a green card, as reported by ABC News. He requested that the House review Santos’ representations to authorities to assess whether he made false statements, a crime under federal law.
It was not immediately clear whether the Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent body that reviews allegations against House members, or the bipartisan Committee on Ethics would investigate Santos’ marriage. A spokesman for the office declined to comment, as did a committee spokesman.