This story has been updated to include a response from Rep. Santos.
The unraveling saga of embattled New York Rep. George Santos appears to have escalated beyond mere resume “embellishments” and possible campaign finance violations to the alleged cruel and heartless betrayal of a disabled military veteran.
Richard Osthoff, a US Navy veteran from Howell, New Jersey, told Patch that he was put in touch with Santos in May 2016 to help raise money for his 10-year-old service pit bull, Sapphire, who had developed a life-threatening stomach tumor the year before.
At the time Osthoff, who was honorably discharged from the Navy in 2002, was homeless and living in a tent in an abandoned chicken coop after losing his job and house.
Osthoff told the outlet that the now Republican lawmaker, who went by the name Anthony Devolder back then, set up a GoFundMe campaign to raise the $3,000 needed to cover the dog’s surgery. Santos claimed to be operating a tax-exempt charity called Friends of Pets United.
“Dear all, When a veteran reaches out to ask for help, how can you say no to a person whom put his life in (sic) the line for us?” reads a Facebook post shared by Santos in April 2016 under the name George Devolder.
The post goes on to say how Osthoff suffers from PTSD and depression, and is currently homeless.
“Will you help this baby and her daddy stay together for a few more years?” the post continues. “Does he not deserve to have her? Let’s all come together to help this family of two stay healthy!”
When the fundraiser reached its goal, however, Osthoff claims that Santos closed the GoFundMe and became elusive.
“I had to jump through hoops and do everything his way,” Osthoff told CNN. “He was just totally, totally difficult. One obstacle after another.”
He told the outlet that Santos first made him visit a veterinary clinic chosen by Santos in Queens, where staff at the “tiny little hole in the wall place” told him they could not operate on Sapphire. Santos later told him that another clinic would not accept Santos’ form of payment.
In November 2016, Osthoff text Santos begging him to let him take Sapphire to another vet clinic.
“My dog is going to die because of god knows what,” Osthoff said in text messages shown to Patch.
“He got so angry with me and he blew up and refused to give me the money and then just wouldn’t answer the calls anymore,” Osthoff told CNN. Eventually, Santos stopped responding altogether. The GoFundMe was later deleted.
Sapphire died in January 2017. At the time, Osthoff had been out of work for more than a year with a broken leg and could not afford the dog’s euthanasia and cremation, he told Patch.
"I had to panhandle,” he said. “It was one of the most degrading things I ever had to do.”
In a statement to CNN, GoFundMe said it attempted to contact the campaign’s organizer to verify that the funds had been delivered, but the organizer never responded. The site removed the fundraiser and prohibited the associated email address from creating future campaigns.
“GoFundMe has a zero tolerance policy for misuse of our platform and cooperates with law enforcement investigations of those accused of wrongdoing,” reads the statement.
Osthoff told CNN that he did not realize George Santos and Anthony Devolder were the same person until he began seeing Santos in news coverage following his win in the 2022 midterm elections.
“In December I started seeing him on TV,” he told the outlet. “I recognized his face, and it just turned my stomach when I saw him.”
Santos denied Osthoff’s allegations in a post on Twitter Thursday, Jan. 19, saying:
"The reports that I would let a dog die is shocking & insane. My work in animal advocacy was the labor of love & hard work. Over the past 24hr I have received pictures of dogs I helped reduce throughout the years along with supportive messages. These distractions won't stop me!
The freshman lawmaker, who represents New York’s 3rd District on Long Island’s North Shore and parts of Queens, has faced growing calls for his resignation after admitting that he lied about his previous jobs, graduating from college, and even his Jewish heritage.
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