On Thursday afternoon, Nancy Marks, the former campaign treasurer for Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.), pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiracy to defraud the United States. As part of her plea, Marks admitted to helping to craft a fake campaign donor scheme—an operation first reported by Mother Jones in February. Prosecutors allege that Santos played an essential role in that plan.
As Mother Jones reported, Santos’ campaign appeared to have listed more than a dozen major fake donations during his first run for office. A follow-up story showed that Santos’ campaign had falsely claimed that one of his relatives made a $5,800 contribution—the legal maximum at that time—to his 2022 campaign.
Marks admitted on Thursday to listing fake donations to last year’s campaign. The goal of the scheme was to attract more support from national Republicans by making it seem that Santos had raised more money than he had.
Prosecutors allege that the congressman helped execute the plan and referred to Santos as “Co-Conspirator #1” in the criminal information they filed on Thursday. “Co-Conspirator #1 and MARKS agreed to falsely report to the FEC that family members of Co-Conspirator #1 and MARKS had made significant financial contributions to the Campaign Committee,” the document says, “when Co-Conspirator #1 and MARKS both knew that these individuals had not made the reported contributions.”
The scheme to list fake donations from their relatives was designed to meet a $250,000 quarterly fundraising goal set by a national Republican committee. In December 2021, Santos texted Marks a list of his family members along with the amounts that should be listed as their contributions to his campaign, according to the criminal information. None of those family members, including the relative Mother Jones interviewed earlier this year, had donated to the Santos campaign.
The next month, Santos texted Marks that he “really would like to know the final numbers for the [previous] quarter.” He asked, “what did we figure out about the report” and added that he was “lost and desperate.” Soon after, Marks filed a campaign finance report that indicated that Santos had barely cleared the $250,000 fundraising threshold. Yet more than $50,000 of the money the campaign reported receiving came from fake donations falsely attributed to relatives of Santos and Marks.
Marks stopped serving as Santos’ treasurer in January. Since then, Santos has tried to blame Marks for the false statements within his campaign finance reports, saying that his “former fiduciary went rogue.”
In May, Santos pleaded not guilty to 13 federal charges. But that indictment largely side-stepped Santos’ highly suspicious campaign finance practices. With Marks’ plea agreement, Santos could face additional charges in a superseding indictment. The information filed in her case maintains that Marks was not working alone.
Until Thursday it remained a mystery how Santos could have obtained the more than $700,000 he claimed to have loaned his most recent campaign. Prosecutors allege that both Santos and Marks knew that a $500,000 loan the campaign reported receiving from Santos in March 2022 never actually occurred. “I knew that the loan had not been made,” Marks said in court.
Santos allegedly kept members of his own campaign in the dark about the fake $500,000 loan. In March 2022, a person affiliated with the campaign texted Santos, “Did you get the wire done for the [first quarter] loan?” Santos replied, “That’s getting done tomorrow and it’s not a wire, banker check.” Prosecutors made clear that Santos did not have enough money to make the loan. Despite that, a March 2022 presentation by members of Santos’ campaign to the national Republican committee listed as a “Key Factor” that Santos’ “[p]ersonal and political capital” would allow “for a fully-funded operation.”
Marks’ attorney, Raymond Perini, said that Marks does not currently have a cooperation agreement with prosecutors. But CNN reports that he stated, “If we get a subpoena, we’ll do the right thing.”
Santos’ decision to throw Marks under the bus is particularly callous. A New York Republican strategist who knows Marks told us earlier this year that Marks considered Santos “her favorite client” and that she went on multiple business trips to Florida with him.
Marks, who lives on Long Island, was a veteran GOP operative. She has been the treasurer for dozens of GOP campaigns, including Lee Zeldin’s congressional campaigns and his failed gubernatorial bid last year in New York. During the 2022 election cycle, her company, Campaigns Unlimited, worked for more than 30 PACs and candidate committees.
In 2021, Marks went into business with Santos and other former employees of Harbor City Capital, a Florida investment firm accused by the Securities and Exchange Commission of running a Ponzi scheme. As Mother Jones reported, their new company, Red Strategies USA, worked for Tina Forte, a Republican who challenged Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) last year. The goal was to profit off the millions of dollars Forte was expected to raise while running against Ocasio-Cortez. Red Strategies USA earned about $110,000 from the campaign before Forte cut off ties with the company. (When a Mother Jones reporter contacted Forte by phone in January about the arrangement, she said she was too busy making marinara sauce to talk, and did not respond to subsequent requests for comment.)
Marks’ consulting company was paid more than $100,000 by the Santos campaign for accounting and fundraising services. She was never particularly careful in hiding her tracks. As Adav Noti, senior vice president and legal director at the Campaign Legal Center, said earlier this year, “It is awfully hard to believe that whoever compiled and formally submitted Santos’ FEC reports believed that they were true…They are just, on their face, obviously false.” Marks has now admitted that.
Santos could have corrected his campaign finance reports at any time this year and come clean about the fake $500,000 loan. Instead, he insinuated that he was able to loan his campaign more than $700,000 due to secretive business deals.
The fake loan and contributions from donors who didn’t appear to exist weren’t the only obvious irregularities in Santos’ campaign finance reports. As Mother Jones reported in January:
[Marks] and several relatives contributed more than $30,000 to the Santos campaign. (The relatives each gave the legal maximum of $5,800.) These donors did not give to any other federal candidates this election cycle. The group includes Marks’ two children who were, respectively, 19 and 22 years old when they started donating to Santos, according to public records.
Marks’ plea agreement comes with a recommendation that she serve between three-and-a-half and four years in prison. She was released from custody with a $100,000 unsecured bond.