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Ex-campaign treasurer for George Santos pleads guilty to felony charges

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

New York's Republican Congressman George Santos is plagued by scandal. And a development today did not help. His former campaign treasurer pleaded guilty to felony charges. Nancy Marks admitted to defrauding the U.S. government in a courtroom on Long Island. Marks said she filed false campaign reports on behalf of Santos. The congressman faces 13 felony charges himself. NPR's Brian Mann is following this case. Hey, Brian.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: What exactly did Nancy Marks admit to doing?

MANN: Well, as part of this guilty plea today, Ari, Marks said that she helped a congressional candidate file at least one fake campaign finance report. She's clearly, from the details, talking about George Santos. In that report, Santos claimed he loaned $500,000 to his own campaign. And according to this criminal plea, that was allegedly done as part of a scheme to make it appear that he had a well-funded political operation, hoping with that to attract more donors. Marks also helped Santos file page after page of campaign finance reports where his expenses were listed as costing $199.99. Now, that number is significant because it's just one penny below the amount where you have to itemize where the money is actually going. So the U.S. attorney's office says Marks could now face up to five years in prison. And in a statement, U.S. attorney Breon Peace said that Marks - and I'm quoting here - "admitted she conspired with the congressional candidate to lie to the Federal Election Commission."

SHAPIRO: Well, let's talk about what it means for that congressional candidate, now a Congressman. George Santos has said that he invented many details of the life story he presented as he was running for office. How does his former treasurer's guilty plea affect his case?

MANN: Well, one interesting question that remains is whether Nancy Marks is going to help prosecutors as they target George Santos. It's not clear yet. We'll learn more about that as we move toward her sentencing. That's the next phase of her case. What we have seen, though, today is that she's admitted taking criminal actions, deliberately falsifying that campaign finance report, committing wire fraud and claiming that she did that with Congressman Santos. I should say Santos has tried to put the blame on her, on Marks, arguing in public statements that she handled the finances of his campaign, claiming she basically went rogue. And so far, Santos has not yet commented on Marks' guilty plea here.

SHAPIRO: Well, I understand she also worked for other Republicans in New York. Tell us about who she was connected to.

MANN: Just about everybody. This is interesting. Over the years, Nancy Marks has been the political bookkeeper for some of the most powerful GOP leaders in New York. She worked for former Congressman Lee Zeldin's campaign when he ran for governor in 2022. She's handled finances for important political action committees and powerful GOP officials there on Long Island. And Marks got involved with George Santos early back in 2020, using her connections to help build support for him. It's important to say so far, there's no indication that her criminal activity laid out in this plea deal involved any of those other politicians.

SHAPIRO: And where does Santos' case stand? He faces more than a dozen felony counts.

MANN: Yeah. He's due back in court later this month. He faces charges of wire fraud, money laundering, stealing public money, filing false forms, most but not all of those charges linked to his political campaign. He, of course, already famously lied about his religious background, his education, just about everything, really. He's admitted to deceiving the public but insists he committed no actual crimes and is now actually running for reelection.

SHAPIRO: Still standing. NPR's Brian Mann there talking about the guilty plea of Nancy Marks, former campaign treasurer for New York Congressman George Santos. Thanks, Brian.

MANN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROSS HAMMOND'S "EASY DOES IT BLUES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.