Washington — A federal judge in New York has granted a request from media organizations to make public the identities of three people who signed the bond for Rep. George Santos' release after his indictment, but said their names should remain hidden for now to allow Santos to appeal.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Anne Shields said Tuesday that she granted an order to unseal the identities of the guarantors of Santos' $500,000 bond. However, she directed the clerk of the court to keep her decision and the bond under seal, giving Santos until noon Friday to challenge her ruling.
Defense attorneys for Santos, a Republican from New York, filed a motion under a court-imposed deadline Monday night arguing the court should keep the records under wraps. His defense said the three people who helped provide Santos' bond would be "likely to suffer great distress, may lose their jobs, and God forbid, may suffer physical injury" if their identities were made public.
"There is little doubt that the suretors will suffer some unnecessary form of retaliation if their identities and employment are revealed," Santos' filing said. It closed by saying that Santos "would rather surrender to pretrial detainment than subject these suretors to what will inevitably come."
Court filings show that the House Ethics Committee, which is investigating Santos, has also requested the identities of the individuals who helped him make bond. Santos' legal team has not provided the records of who helped assure his bond to the Ethics Committee.
Shields released Santos on May 10 on $500,000 bond, afteron 13 federal criminal counts, including fraud. Court filings said three people helped Santos secure the bond, but their identities have remained under seal. The judge ordered Santos to respond to requests to reveal the identities of the three individuals last week, but his defense attorneys requested and received a delay to do so until Monday. The judge's order specified that there would be "no further extensions of time" for Santos to respond.
A consortium of media organizations filed a motion last month seeking the unsealing of the records, citing First Amendment and common law rights of access to the information.
"The public's interest in this matter cannot be overstated," the motion said. "A United States Congressman stands accused of perpetuating financial fraud in connection with his election to the House of Representatives."
"Rep. Santos is charged with defrauding members of the public while campaigning for office," the consortium's filing said. "The alleged criminal conduct fundamentally challenges the integrity of our democratic institutions. And the decision to keep the identities of the sureties hidden from public view only exacerbates those challenges."
Santos has pleaded not guilty to the federal indictment and is scheduled to return to court on June 30. The 13-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury on May 9 includes 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.
If convicted, Santos faces up to 20 years in prison for the most serious charges.
In their argument seeking the release of the records showing who helped secure Santos' bond, the media organizations said the case has unique interest to the public.
"Rep. Santos purportedly engaged in a fraudulent political contribution solicitation scheme. He allegedly defrauded political donors, using their campaign contributions for his own personal expenses," the consortium argues. "Second, Rep. Santos is alleged to have fraudulently claimed unemployment. Third, Rep. Santos purportedly made false financial disclosures to Congress in connection with two separate campaigns."
In a court filing last week, the Department of Justice said the government "continues to take no position on the public disclosure of the sureties names and thus takes no position as to the pending motions."
Santos has publicly maintained his innocence in the criminal case. He declined to answer when asked by CBS News last month if he was considering a plea agreement in the federal criminal case.
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