When Adriana Parizzi sees freshman Congressman George Santos (R-N.Y.) on television these days she barely recognizes the man with whom she once shared an apartment in New York City. Parizzi first met Santos in Brazil years earlier. She remembers Anthony, as he is generally known by his Brazilian acquaintances, as the “playful and smiley one, singing and dancing, joking about everything.” But he was also “a dreamer” who enjoyed luxury, expensive restaurants, designer clothes, and fancy whiskey. He bragged about his connections. Now, when Parizzi sees him wandering the halls of Congress, dodging questions from reporters, she thinks “he has the look of a lost, cornered person.”
Parizzi is one of the members of the highly active Brazilian WhatsApp group, aptly titled in Portuguese “mentira tem pernas curtas,” or “lies have short legs.” Participants include former roommates and friends—some of whom live in the United States—and they compare notes, exchange theories, and work together to get the word out about the “true story” of Santos. One member told me the group is like “the Brazilian justice league” when I first joined the group.
They often celebrate when a new article or TV segment comes out exposing the man they knew as Anthony Devolder and share memes mocking their former friend. (Parrizi shared photos of her and her daughter Bruna with a younger Santos in New York, as well as screenshots of text messages she exchanged with him to verify their connection.)
Parizzi says she got to know Santos’ late mother Fátima Devolder in 2008 when they attended bingo halls in Niterói, a city outside of Rio de Janeiro. Soon after, Santos, then in his early 20s, joined his mother in Brazil.
Parizzi, a 55-year-old homemaker told me Santos would often stay at her house in Teresópolis, a town two hours north of Rio and that she used to pay for him and his mother to play bingo—as much as $6,000 in a single month. Parizzi says she also purchased the tickets for her to fly with Santos to New York in February 2011. “He didn’t have any money to go back and I was the way for him to leave Brazil,” she says.
Parizzi has also accused Santos of stealing jewelry and money from her. When she later confronted him about the jewelry via text messages, she says, he became defensive and “made it very clear that I was in his country and [the person] who called the shots there was him, and at any point, if I opened my mouth, he could send me back to Brazil.”
“He always convinced people that everything was a big misunderstanding,” she adds.
Santos has denied the allegations, telling the New York Post, “Everybody that has ever wanted to come for me is coming for me and they are making s–t up on the way, and I look very much forward to poking holes in all these people who are making these insane accusations without any corroborating evidence—because it is false.”
Elected in November to represent New York’s third congressional district as the first openly gay non-incumbent Republican to win a seat in the House, Santos has been caught in a seemingly endless stream of lies about his life and career. His campaign website’s bio, once showcasing an impressive education and distinguished and prosperous resume, is now stripped bare of the mostly fabricated statements. The son of Brazilian immigrants lied about working for Goldman Sachs and Citigroup. He falsely claimed he attended Baruch College on a volleyball scholarship and “got very nice knee replacements,” later admitting having to admit he had “embellished” his resume and “didn’t graduate from any institution of higher learning.”
He said he founded an animal charity but there are no records of it and recently a disabled veteran accused him of pocketing $3,000 from a fundraising meant to help his dying service dog. Santos has also lied about having Jewish grandparents who fled the Nazis during World War II and about his mother surviving the 9/11 attacks, even though she wasn’t in the United States at the time.
He is facing investigations over his campaign finances including repeated disbursements of exactly $199.99, which happens to be just under the $200 threshold required to retain a receipt or invoice. On Tuesday, his campaign filings were amended to show that a $500,000 loan he made to the campaign hadn’t actually come from personal funds. Meanwhile, prosecutors in Brazil have revived a case of fraud against him. Santos has been placed on two House committees: Small Business and Science, Space and Technology.
The congressman has been barraged by calls to resign, including from his own party. “He needs help,” Republican Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman said at a news conference this month. “He’s not a normal person.” So far, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has not made a statement calling for his removal. McCarthy did say “if for some way when we go through Ethics that he has broken the law, then we will remove him, but it’s not my role.”
Santos’ pattern of relentless fabrications started to come to light in mid-December, a month after the midterm elections when the New York Times published an exposé. But many of the allegations about him since have been reported by Brazil-based media as well as the connections the disgraced GOP congressman had cultivated—and bridges he burned—during his time in the country.
It was in the WhatsApp group that I first saw old newspaper photos of Santos as a drag queen at a gay parade in Niterói. In interviews for the late-night Brazilian show Fantástico and Reuters, 58-year-old drag queen Eula Rochard (who is now being lauded as the “queen of the drags” on Instagram) said she met Santos, who ran as a conservative candidate and supported Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” legislation, at Niterói’s first gay parade in 2005 and that he used the name Kitara Ravache. “The great irony of this is he is part of a party that thinks drag queens are terrible!” one WhatsApp group member wrote. “That’s proof that he doesn’t care about politics at all,” wrote another who tried to get RuPaul to pay attention to the story. “He just wants to be famous.”
The embattled congressman initially denied having performed as a drag queen but later told TMZ: “I was young, and I had fun at a festival. Sue me for having a life.”
Earlier this week, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow show released the video of an interview that Santos gave to a Brazilian podcast called Rádio Novelo Apresenta in late 2022. “I’m going to a New Year’s Eve party with my husband,” he said. “We go back to our house, it was vandalized because we were at a Republican party in Florida in December 2020. So that’s it. I’ve experienced vandalism. We have already suffered an attempt on my life, an assassination attempt, a threatening letter, having to have the police, a police escort standing in front of our house.” In the same interview, Santos also told an obviously skeptical Brazilian reporter, João Batista Jr., he had been mugged in the middle of Times Square one afternoon in the summer of 2021 by two men who took his shoes, watch, and briefcase. “Before anyone asks,” he said, “they weren’t Black, they were white, but they robbed me.”
Throughout the interview, Santos tells the story of overcoming hardships before achieving the American Dream. “I was poor for many years, very poor indeed, and today I feel sincerely blessed,” he said. “I think it’s karmic energy: you send good things to the universe and the universe throws good things at you.” Santos goes on to say: “If I can do it, anyone can do it. I’m not special.”
On Twitter, the podcast’s research director Flora Thomson-DeVeaux described the interview as “one of the most infuriating interactions I can remember having in recent years” on Twitter. She continued, “Santos was smug, spoke in clichés and platitudes about the American dream and meritocracy, spewed unbelievable fake facts—300 drag performances in NYC schools PER DAY, 20,000 ‘on-demand’ late-term abortions in New York State per year—and refused to engage when challenged.” After hanging up, Thomson-DeVeaux added, she “actually let out a little scream of rage.”
Members of the WhatsApp group have hopes that Santos will be forced to resign or even go to jail. At one point, the group circulated a Wikipedia page for a user named Anthony Devolder reported by Politico stating he had played a role in Disney shows like Hannah Montana. “We call this ‘delusions of grandeur,’” one member said, to which another replied: “I call this sociopath.”
“He’s like a car going down a hill without breaks,” says Parizzi. “He needs to be stopped.”
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