Veteran who accused George Santos of animal charity scam says FBI probe should end in jail time
Stars and Stripes February 3, 2023
The Navy veteran who accused Rep. George Santos of stealing funds from his sick dog’s fundraiser says he would like to see Santos jailed after federal authorities complete an investigation of the embattled congressman.
Richard Osthoff, 47, said he spoke to two FBI agents with the U.S. Attorney Office in the Eastern District of New York on Wednesday about a GoFundMe scheme involving Santos, R-N.Y., and told them he was “all in for” charging Santos.
Osthoff said he turned over text messages, emails and other material to the authorities after publicly blaming Santos last month for raising $3,000 for Osthoff’s dying pit bull mix Sapphire in 2016 and then disappearing with the money.
“He deserves to be in an orange jumpsuit somewhere, behind glass or behind bars,” Osthoff said. “I’m not saying for the rest of his life or anything like that but whatever the law provides, that’s what I’d like to see.”
Santos is already facing multiple investigations over lies that he told about his education and work history, family background and life story. He was elected to Congress last November after flipping a Long Island district held by a Democrat to Republican and became embroiled in fraud allegations and scandals in December.
Federal agents called Osthoff a few weeks after he provided information to the New York Attorney General’s Office about his painful experience with Santos, Osthoff said. A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney Office in the Eastern District of New York declined to comment.
Osthoff said he would have never reached out to the authorities if Santos had acknowledged him and apologized in 2016.
“I don’t like to tell on people and get them into any trouble or anything like that but he deserves it,” he said.
Osthoff connected with Santos, then going by the name Anthony Devolder, through a veterinary technician when Sapphire developed a life-threatening stomach tumor requiring surgery. Osthoff was living in a roadside tent in Howell, N.J., at the time to be close to his service dog’s veterinarian.
Santos appeared to be running a pet charity, Friends of Pets United, and promised Osthoff that he would set up a GoFundMe for Sapphire’s costly operation. The fund drive raised $3,000 but when Osthoff attempted to access the money, he said Santos became evasive and combative.
Santos told Osthoff that the funds were under his charity’s control and it could only hand them over to a veterinarian, according to text message screenshots provided by Osthoff’s friend Michael Boll. Authorities have said the group was not a registered charity.
A veterinarian on Long Island, who was recommended by Santos, declined to operate on Sapphire and the dog died in January 2017, said Boll, a Marine Corps veteran.
“I had to sit there in that tent watching her die and there was nothing I could do about it, it was horrendous,” Osthoff said. “So he deserves whatever the law does to him. It thrilled me when I heard from the [federal agents].”
He said the authorities told him that they would contact him again in several weeks. Osthoff said he is not looking to recover the GoFundMe money but wanted Santos to apologize and resign.
“He’s nothing but a distraction,” Osthoff said. “He’s turning the country into a laughing stock.”
Santos on Tuesday announced he would step down from two congressional committees due to investigations into his finances and the attention surrounding his personal and professional life. He said in a Jan. 19 tweet that reports he let a dog die were “shocking” and “insane.”
“My work in animal advocacy was the labor of love & hard work,” Santos wrote. “Over the past 24hr I have received pictures of dogs I helped rescue throughout the years along with supportive messages. These distractions won’t stop me!”
The House Ethics Committee is investigating Santos and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said Tuesday that the congressman will be removed from office if the committee finds legal wrongdoing.
Santos’ office did not respond to a request for comment.
Osthoff said he has been inundated with offers of money and other gifts since going public with his story last month but has turned them down.
“I don’t feel comfortable accepting things from people,” he said.
But Osthoff said he will make an exception for the North Shore Animal League America shelter, which wants to provide Osthoff with a puppy and free veterinary care, and veterans groups who have offered service dog training.
Osthoff left the Navy in 2005 after serving as an aviation electronic technician and said he now works for a construction company that builds netting for sports equipment. He has a home in Freehold, N.J. and shares it with his two pit bull mixes, Ruby and Diamond. He adopted the dogs after Sapphire's death.
The phone call from federal agents provided a small measure of consolation years after an experience that left him traumatized, he said.
“I didn’t think there was any way that I could prosecute and now that somebody’s looking into it, the feds are looking into it — that’s big. I can’t ask for much more,” Osthoff said. “[Santos] didn’t just break the law, he broke my heart.”