The Justice Department’s announcement this week of a guilty plea from the Long Island-based ex-campaign treasurer for Republican Rep. George Santos signaled that the federal fraud case against the congressman is strong, according to legal experts.
Nancy Marks appears to have had intimate knowledge of the thousands of dollars that flowed into and out of Santos’ campaign accounts, making her the focus of federal scrutiny.
Marks, who was a top financial official on Santos’ congressional campaign,on Thursday to one count of conspiracy to commit offenses against the United States, which included wire fraud, falsifying records and identity theft, according to court documents.
“Any way you look at it, the Marks plea is bad news for George Santos,” whether or not she cooperates with the government, says Brett Kappel, an attorney with the D.C.-based firm Harmon Curran who is an expert in government ethics and campaign finance issues.
In pleading guilty to the criminal information, she admitted that she and Santos had added nonexistent donations from his friends and family in order to falsely inflate his campaign’s fundraising totals to qualify for help from the Republican National Party.
“Marks did so for the purpose of making the Campaign Committee appear more financially sound than it was,” according to the criminal information.
Marks admitted in court documents to falsely attesting that Santos had made a $500,000 loan to his campaign when he had not done so, in order to make his campaign seem more financially successful than it was.
“By the nature of the plea, she is implicating him,” said George Washington University law professor Randall Eliason. “One way or another, the government is going to use that information in his case.”
Prosecutors in the Eastern District of New York alleged Marks and an unnamed 2022 congressional candidate-turned member of Congress — whom CBS News has identified as Santos — submitted false financial reports to the Federal Election Commission that inflated the campaign’s fundraising numbers in an effort to qualify for certain perks, benefits and support from Republican Party leaders.
While it is unclear from court documents whether the plea agreement Marks entered requires her to cooperate with prosecutors, her attorney said outside the courthouse that she would testify in Santos’ prosecution if subpoenaed.
Legal experts told CBS News that her guilty plea could indicate the government’s case against Santos might be growing.
“The fact that the Justice Department didn’t require her to cooperate may indicate that they already have so much documentary evidence that they don’t need her testimony,” explains Kappel. “The pressure on Santos to plead will now increase exponentially.”
Marks was charged in the same case as Santos, and legal experts say the details included in her case may be an indication that even more charges may be brought against congressman.
Marks and Santos, according to plea papers, allegedly lied about a loan they said Santos had provided to his campaign in an effort to bolster the campaign’s prospects heading into the election. Only identifying Santos as “Co-Conspirator #1,” prosecutors wrote he “had not made the reported loans and, in fact, did not have the funds necessary to make such loans at the time.”
Santos has refused to resign his seat, despite facing federal charges as well as a pending investigation by theinto his alleged misconduct. However Marks’ plea may mean additional scrutiny from Capitol Hill, according to Professor Laurie Levenson of Loyola Marymount University Law School.
“All of his finances are going to be under a microscope. With someone close to him admitting guilt, it will be hard for him to say that he played by the rules,” she said.
And now that prosecutors continue to raise the pressure on him, Kappel says that Santos might need to use his congressional seat at the negotiating table. “He only has one card to play — agree to resign his seat in exchange for less prison time.”
In April 2022, according to Marks’ court documents, the Santos campaign published fake fundraising totals and reported to both national party officials and the FEC that Santos had loaned his campaign $500,000, an attestation that Marks admitted to in court documents that she signed off on.
Investigators also alleged in the criminal information to which Marks pleaded guilty that she, Santos, and others were aware in 2021 of a $250,000 fundraising threshold that the campaign had to meet to qualify for Republican Party backing. When they realized they did not have the necessary funds, according to prosecutors, the pair “conspired and agreed to falsely inflate the Campaign Committee’s fundraising totals, including…in public filings with the FEC.”
And in an alleged attempt to substantiate the false campaign funds, court papers say text messages revealed a list of names and family members of Marks and Santos and the purported contributions they made to the campaign. “None of the family members…had made, or ever did make, the listed contributions,” court records said, but were nevertheless reported to the FEC in a year-end 2021 report.
Santos was indicted by a federal grand jury in May on seven counts of wire fraud, three counts of money laundering, two counts of making materially false statements to the House of Representatives and one count of theft of public funds.
He pleaded not guilty to all counts and has consistently denied any wrongdoing. Santos’ congressional office declined to comment on the case, and his attorney did not respond to requests for comment.
The New York representative has also been dogged by allegations that he lied about his past experience to bolster his chances of being elected to Congress in 2022.
Over the last year, CBS News has tried several times to speak with Marks and discuss her involvement with Santos’ campaign, traveling to the Long Island, New York, library where she serves as a board member.
Marks’ attorney did not respond to emails and calls for comment. It is unclear from court papers whether there is any cooperation agreement between Marks and prosecutors as part of the plea.
Michael Kaplan contributed reporting.