Three anonymous people are sponsoring the $500,000 bond for Rep. George Santos.
A judge has allowed their identities to remain secret and reportedly held sealed court hearings with them.
The secrecy is highly unusual in any case, much less one against a sitting member of Congress.
A judge overseeing the federal criminal case against Rep. George Santos of New York held a secret hearing with the three people on the hook for his $500,000 bond, according to a new court filing, going to extraordinary lengths to keep their identities secret.
Santos was arraigned in federal court on Long Island on May 10, pleading not guilty to a 13-count criminal indictment where federal prosecutors alleged he stole funds from political donors meant for campaign expenses, illegally took pandemic unemployment payouts, and lied to Congress on financial forms.
US Magistrate Judge Anne Shields allowed Santos to be released on a $500,000 bond that would be cosigned by three different suretors who would guarantee the bail funds.
The names of those bail sponsors weren’t disclosed at the arraignment hearing. And in the two weeks since, the bond documents haven’t appeared on the public court docket — a departure from normal practice in criminal cases.
In a letter filed to court Wednesday, Dana R. Green, a lawyer for The New York Times, said the court held another hearing with the sponsors that was kept secret.
“It is our understanding that the Court also held at least one subsequent hearing with the suretors,” Green wrote. “However, it appears these bond proceedings were not open to the public and no record of the hearing appears in the docket.”
It’s not clear whether the hearing was overseen by Shields or US District Judge Joanna Seybert, to whom Santos’s case has since been assigned. The Times’s letter asks Seybert to unseal any bond records, as well as the transcript of the sealed hearing with the bail sponsors.
Criminal defendants sometimes ask judges to keep the names and other personal details of their bond sponsors under seal. In the criminal case against Sam Bankman-Fried, attorneys for the former FTX CEO asked the judge overseeing his case to keep secret the names of the two people guaranteeing his $250 million bond package.
After a group of news organizations, including Insider, asked the judge to unseal their names, arguing they were in the public interest, the judge ultimately made the names public. (Bankman-Fried’s bond guarantors are Larry Kramer and Andreas Paepcke — both have ties to Stanford University, which employs his parents.)
Unlike in the Bankman-Fried case, there’s no public record of Santos’s attorney asking for the bail sponsor names to remain sealed. Santos’s attorney Joseph Murray and a spokesperson for the US Attorney’s office in the Eastern District of New York both declined to comment.
The secrecy surrounding the identities of the three guarantors means that the public has no way of knowing who is ensuring that Santos, an elected official, is allowed to stay out of jail ahead of a trial on the criminal charges against him.
“The public interest in openness is particularly strong in this case. The surety records relate to three individuals who have committed large sums of money to ensure that Rep. Santos can remain at liberty, pending further proceedings,” Green wrote in her Wednesday letter. “This presents an obvious opportunity for political influence, given Rep. Santos’s elected position and his dependence on these suretors.”
Read the original article on Business Insider