Embattled Rep. George Santos scammed a homeless veteran out of $3,000 he needed to pay for an operation for his beloved sick dog, local news website Patch reported Tuesday.
Without the funds Santos had raised on GoFundMe, Richard Osthoff told Patch that his honey-colored pitbull mutt Sapphire passed away.
“Little girl never left my side in 10 years,” Ostoff told Patch. “I went through two bouts of seriously considering suicide, but thinking about leaving her without me saved my life. I loved that dog so much.”
It’s the latest revelation in the list of lies Santos has been accused of telling. Santos was sworn in to represent New York’s 3rd District covering Long Island and parts of Queens on Jan. 7, amid calls for his resignation and multiple investigations into his conduct.
Santos has brushed off criticism, insisting his fabrications were mere embellishments of his résumé, and didn’t return a request from Gothamist for comment on the latest allegations immediately.
He denied the accusations that he’d swindled Ostoff to news outlet Semafor, and said that he had “no clue” who Osthoff is.
Back in 2016, at the time of the reported GoFundMe scam, Osthoff, 47, was living in a tent in an abandoned chicken coop in Howell, New Jersey, with his service dog Sapphire.
Osthoff told Patch that Sapphire developed a large tumor. A veterinary tech who treated the dog suggested Osthoff reach out to his friend Anthony Devolder, who ran a group called Friends of Pets United and helped raise funds for pet owners.
Before rebranding himself ahead of his 2021 congressional bid, Santos went by Anthony Devolder, another variation of what appears to be his full name, George Anthony Devolder Santos.
In June of 2016, Santos’ GoFundMe page raised the funds needed for Sapphire’s operation, and Osthoff was overjoyed. But that soon gave way to confusion and frustration. Santos said the procedure couldn’t be done in New Jersey, but it had to take place at a specific clinic in Queens. Osthoff got a ride with his friend the vet tech to the Queens clinic, where a vet told them Sapphire couldn’t be operated on.
After that Santos reportedly became harder and harder to reach.
“I’m sick of being jerked around. I’ll take her to another vet, but that cash was raised on her behalf,” Osthoff texted Santos, according to screenshots of the conversation obtained by Patch.
Santos had replied that the money was spent on other pets. “Remember it is our credibility that got GoFundme […] to contribute. We are audited like every 501c3 and we are with the highest standards of integrity.”
Friends of Pets United isn’t registered as a nonprofit anywhere in the country, according to IRS records.
Sapphire’s condition worsened and she eventually died in January of 2017. Patch corroborated Ostoff’s account through a friend of his, Michael Boll, a retired police sergeant and veteran himself, who now runs a veterans outreach program, NJ Veterans Network.
“I really felt bad for Rich,” Boll told Patch. “He has PTSD, and this dog is his lifeline. When I first heard about it, I thought, this is going to kill him.”
A spokesperson for GoFundMe didn’t return a request for comment right away. The GoFundMe campaign is no longer live, and Patch reported it could not find a copy in Internet archive sites; Gothamist has been unable to locate a copy as well.