A veteran who accused Republican New York Rep. George Santos of stealing $3,000 from his dog’s charity fund told CNN Thursday that he considered suicide.
Navy veteran Rich Osthoff and Michael Boll, founder of the New Jersey Veterans Network, organized a GoFundMe for Osthoff’s pit bull, Sapphire, who developed a tumor in 2015. Osthoff was homeless and living in a tent at the time, having been unable to pay his rent after losing his job.
The dog’s veterinarian allegedly referred Osthoff to Santos, who had reportedly created several GoFundMe accounts for dogs and cats in need. Osthoff then collaborated with the now-representative to set up the account. Santos reportedly told Osthoff to take the dog to a veterinarian of Santos’ choice and vowed to pay him back for his gas, lunch and tolls for the long trip to the vet.
Osthoff alleged that Santos never reimbursed him for the trip, never gave him money for the dog and eventually cut ties with the the homeless veteran after the GoFundMe raised $3,000. Sapphire eventually passed away from the illness. (RELATED: ‘Deceit, Lies And Fabrication’: Long Island Republicans Urge Rep. George Santos To Resign)
Santos denied these allegations in a statement shared by CNN, saying he would “go to hell and back” for a veteran and his dog.
“I have no clue what he’s talking about, and the crazy part is that anyone that knows me, knows I’d go to hell and back for a dog and especially a veteran. So this is just more of the pile-on effect. I have dozens of people reaching out to me in support sharing their stories about their dogs and cats that I help save and rescue,” the congressman said.
He called the allegations “shocking and insane” in a Thursday tweet.
“The reports that I would let a dog die is shocking & insane,” Santos wrote. “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 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 rescue throughout the years along with supportive messages.
These distractions won’t stop me!
— George Santos (@Santos4Congress) January 19, 2023
“Well then go to hell. He said he can go to hell and back, then go to hell, George,” Osthoff said in response. “I don’t believe any of it. I don’t believe anything he said about that. I think any other animal he had up on his website probably suffered the same fate as my dog did.”
Boll said he attempted to convince Santos to return the money to the donors or donate it to a veterinarian to assist Osthoff in paying for future medical bills.
Osthoff alleged that Santos identified himself as Anthony Devolder at the time and that he didn’t learn Santos had been elected to Congress until mid-January when an interviewer asked him for his real name. The representative’s full birth name is George Anthony Devolder Santos, and he has previously identified himself by the name Anthony Devolder.
“He doesn’t deserve to be where he’s at, he doesn’t deserve a government pension,” Osthoff said. “I’m a very personal, private person. I don’t have very many friends. I stay at home with my dogs for the most amount of time. I don’t want to be out here doing this. I don’t like the media attention. I don’t like my phone blowing up and stuff. But when I saw him on the news as Anthony Devolder, and I put two and two together, it ripped the scab off, and it felt like my dog died yesterday. It hurt me that much all over again.”
He then revealed that he felt suicidal after his dog’s death and only healed when he adopted a new puppy weeks later.
“Do you have a heart? Do you have a soul? He would probably lie about that. I don’t want you to ever hurt anybody like you hurt me again, George,” Osthoff said when asked what he would say to the congressman. “And nobody else should ever have to go through that. I almost killed myself when that dog died. That’s why I’m here. I don’t want him to be able to do this again.”
Text messages obtained by CNN allegedly showed exchanges between Osthoff and Santos. According to the messages, the now-representative told Osthoff that he could not accompany his dog to the vet and that a vet had ruled out surgery. The conversation became confrontational after Osthoff accused him of running a sham charity.
“I’m starting to feel liked [SIC] I was mined for my family and friends donations,” he allegedly wrote to Santos in 2016.
“The funds are moved to the next animal in need and we will make sure we use of [SIC] resources to keep her comfortable!” Santos reportedly responded.
“I’m sick of being jerked around,” Osthoff texted.
“Remember it is our credibility that got Gofundme them seves [SIC] to contribute! We are with the highest standards of integrity,” Santos allegedly answered.
GoFundMe removed the charity account after Santos did not respond to reported issues with the fundraiser, according to CNN.
“When we received a report of an issue with this fundraiser in late 2016, our trust and safety team sought proof of the delivery of funds from the organizer. The organizer failed to respond, which led to the fundraiser being removed and the email associated with that account prohibited from further use on our platform,” the company said in a statement. “GoFundMe has a zero tolerance policy for misuse of our platform and cooperates with law enforcement investigations of those accused of wrongdoing.”