New details link George Santos to cousin of sanctioned Russian oligarch
The Washington Post January 16, 2023
George Santos, the freshman Republican congressman from New York who lied about his biography, has deeper ties than previously known to a businessman who cultivated close links with a onetime Trump confidant and who is the cousin of a sanctioned Russian oligarch, according to video footage and court documents.
Andrew Intrater and his wife each gave the maximum $5,800 to Santos' main campaign committee and tens of thousands more since 2020 to committees linked to him, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission. Intrater's cousin is Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg, who has been sanctioned by the U.S. government for his role in the Russian energy industry.
The relationship between Santos and Intrater goes beyond campaign contributions, according to a statement made privately by Santos in 2020 and a court filing the following year in a lawsuit brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission against a Florida-based investment firm, Harbor City Capital, where Santos worked for more than a year.
Taken together, the evidence suggests Santos may have had a business relationship with Intrater as Santos was first entering politics in 2020. It also shows, according to the SEC filing, that Intrater put hundreds of thousands of dollars into Santos' onetime employer, Harbor City, which was accused by regulators of running a Ponzi scheme. Neither Santos nor Intrater responded to requests for comment. Attorneys who have represented Intrater also did not respond.
The congressman, whose election from Long Island last year helped the GOP secure its narrow House majority, has apologized for what he called "résumé embellishment" while rebuffing calls for his resignation. He is under scrutiny by prosecutors in New York and Rio de Janeiro.
Ties between Santos, 34, and Intrater, 60, reflect the ways Santos found personal and political support on his path to public office.
While Intrater is a U.S. citizen, his company, the investment firm Columbus Nova, has historically had extensive ties to the business interests of his Russian cousin. As recently as 2018, when Vekselberg was sanctioned by the Treasury Department, his conglomerate was Columbus Nova's largest client, the company confirmed to The Post that year.
Intrater's interactions in 2016 and 2017 with Michael Cohen, who at the time was working as a lawyer for Donald Trump, were probed during special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible links between Trump and the Kremlin.
Intrater's company paid the lawyer and self-described Trump fixer to identify deals for his business, and court records show they exchanged hundreds of texts and phone calls. Neither Intrater nor Vekselberg was accused of wrongdoing in Mueller's investigation.
In 2020, when Santos was tasked by Harbor City with locating investors in New York, he claimed in a Harbor City meeting held over Zoom that Intrater's investment firm, Columbus Nova, was a "client" of his, according to footage obtained by The Washington Post.
He made the comment during a discussion of the difficulties of residential real estate investing, in particular for investors who put money into the 1,400-foot tall tower at 432 Park Ave. in Manhattan, which for a time was the tallest residential building in the world. Intrater did not respond to a question about whether he or Columbus Nova was involved in the project.
"You might know who they are," Santos added in the company meeting, referring to Columbus Nova. "They've made the news on several occasions. They were heavily involved with the Russia probe. Unjustified."
"But they're a real estate company," Santos added. "They're legitimate."
Santos did not respond to a text message seeking comment. Intrater did not respond to an emailed question about whether his firm was Santos' client as claimed or about the deposit with Harbor City.
The congressman has falsified substantial aspects of his work experience. And, in the Harbor City Zoom meetings reviewed by The Post, he recounted dealings with other prominent investors or moneyed organizations that those entities denied took place.
But Harbor City was able to land a $625,000 deposit from a company registered in Mississippi that identifies Intrater as its lone officer, according to an exhibit included in the SEC's complaint against Harbor City. The alleged deposit, which is undated, is included in a chart that lists several entities that the SEC says made payments to Harbor City.
The Mississippi company, FEA Innovations, is registered to Intrater, according to secretary of state records. Registration documents include no other officers or directors and identify Intrater's address as the same one used by Columbus Nova on Madison Avenue in Manhattan. Columbus Nova is now known as Sparrow Capital.
In the SEC action, initiated in April 2021, regulators accused Harbor City and its founder of running a "classic Ponzi scheme" — promising investors reliable profit and instead bilking them out of millions.
The SEC complaint did not name Santos, who has denied knowledge of the alleged wrongdoing, although he had been told by a prospective investor that the firm was using a fraudulent bank document, as The Post previously reported.
Harbor City's founder, J.P. Maroney, has denied the SEC allegations, which were brought in federal court in Florida. The company itself has not responded in court. Maroney did not respond to a text message about the alleged deposit from Intrater's firm. The exhibit that identifies the alleged deposit from Intrater's company does not elaborate on its purpose or suggest that Intrater had knowledge of purported wrongdoing at Harbor City.
After Harbor City's assets were frozen, and with assistance from a fellow former Harbor City employee, Santos in 2021 formed a company, the Devolder Organization, that paid him at least $3.5 million over the next two years, according to Florida business records and financial disclosure forms he filed as a candidate. Santos loaned his campaign more than $700,000 but did not report any income from Harbor City despite having been paid by the company as recently as April 2021.
Details of Santos' tenure at Harbor City were confirmed by a court-appointed lawyer overseeing liquidation of the company's assets.
Columbus Nova became a subject of interest for the Mueller investigation as prosecutors probed the ties forged by Intrater and his company with Cohen, a confidant of Trump's at the time.
Intrater donated $250,000 to Trump's inaugural committee, according to campaign finance records, and attended the 2017 inaugural, along with Vekselberg. The Washington Post has reported that the two men encountered Cohen at the inauguration. Not long after, Columbus Nova began paying Cohen as part of a contract to recruit new investors for the company, The Post reported. Court records show the payments totaled $583,000.
Court records also show that Cohen and Intrater exchanged more than 1,000 calls and text messages between November 2016 and November 2017. Intrater donated $35,000 to attend a 2017 fundraiser for Trump's reelection, attending at Cohen's invitation, The Post has reported.
Federal officials questioned both Intrater and Vekselberg during the probe, interviewing the latter after his private airplane made a stop in the United States in 2018, people familiar with the investigation said.
Cohen ultimately pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations, tax and bank fraud and lying to Congress — matters unrelated to his interactions with Columbus Nova. Intrater told the New York Times in 2019 that his omission from Mueller's final report "confirms what I knew all along — that I've done nothing wrong."
Cohen later turned on Trump, criticizing him in a 2019 congressional hearing and cooperating with investigations into his former boss' business practices.
Vekselberg and his company, Renova, were sanctioned by the Treasury Department in April 2018, cited for benefiting from Russian President Vladimir Putin's "malign activity around the globe." In April 2022, following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Vekselberg's $90 million yacht was seized by Spanish authorities at the request of the United States.
Columbus Nova has long been described as closely associated with the Renova Group, a Russian conglomerate run by Vekselberg. As recently as 2017, a website for Renova Group listed Columbus Nova as one of its companies, and Columbus Nova confirmed to The Post in 2018 that Vekselberg's conglomerate was at that time its largest client. However, the firm said at the time that it was owned by Americans and had never been controlled by Renova Group or Vekselberg.
The Washington Post's Devlin Barrett, Emma Brown and Jonathan O'Connell contributed to this report.