It was just before midnight on December 27, 2021, and Jen Remauro had a message for Rep. George Santos (R-NY). The Republican was less than a year away from his victory in a New York congressional election that would trigger a shocking series of scandals and criminal charges. But behind the scenes, there was already plenty of drama.
“Please keep me out of your spew,” Remauro wrote in a text to Santos, which she provided to TPM.
At the time, Remauro was the campaign manager for Tina Forte, a far-right candidate who has made two quixotic challenges to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). In her text, Remauro explained that she’d heard rumors Santos was badmouthing her and her mother, Staten Island politico Leticia Remauro. As she warned Santos not to malign her, Remauro launched an attack of her own. She accused the future congressman of having misled Forte by steering her towards a consulting firm, Red Strategies USA, LLC, which subsequently received over $100,000 from the campaign, without disclosing that he was actually one of the people behind the business.
“People are saying you keep saying my mother and I have ruined Tina’s campaign. You know you own Red Strategies and it’s public knowledge. You pretended you didn’t even know the company when you actually own the company,” Remauro added. “YOU fucked her campaign up and you’re lucky I’m not vindictive. You played me and Tina and I’ll hand that to you but stop dragging my name in the mud.”
“Me???? Wow,” Santos replied. “Wait a freaking minute!”
The text messages that appear throughout this article were provided by Remauro to TPM. Apart from adding periods for clarity, we have not altered the content of the messages, including for spelling or grammatical errors. Santos, who has consistently denied any wrongdoing, did not respond to TPM’s requests for comment.
And while it’s not clear whether Santos simply “owned” Red Strategies, as Remauro claimed in the Dec. 27 text exchange, he has extensive links to the firm’s management structure. Florida corporate records indicate the authorized members that make up the firm’s management structure are all other companies including “Devolder Organization LLC,” a business created and controlled by Santos that he has described as his “family’s firm.” The other companies in the ownership of Red Strategies are all part of an interconnected network of businesses tied to Santos, his ex-campaign treasurer Nancy Marks, and former executives at Harbor City, an investment company where Santos previously worked. Harbor City Capital Corp. has been described by the Securities and Exchange Commission as “a classic ponzi scheme.” Most of the complex network of companies tied to Santos and the Harbor City executives were based in a nondescript Florida office park.
Based on the texts Remauro provided to TPM, the pair had an extended, contentious exchange filled with insults and false claims from Santos. During the conversation, Santos attempted to defend himself as “a business man.” Following his feud with Remauro, Santos went on to win election to Congress, was revealed to have told a series of lies about his personal biography while running for office, and was ultimately indicted on federal charges related to his personal finances and his election operation. And now, TPM has learned, congressional investigators have also apparently taken interest in Remauro’s allegations.
Remauro, who is no longer working with Forte, told TPM she was contacted by House Ethics Committee investigators about Santos and is scheduled to speak with them about her Santos experience next month. Forte declined to comment and referred TPM to Brian Graham, her current campaign manager. Graham confirmed Forte’s campaign had been contacted by the committee as well in an email where he answered a series of written questions.
“All information has been sent to them as requested,” Graham said of the Ethics Committee’s query.
‘The Talk of Mar-a-Lago’
The quest to take down Ocasio-Cortez was always going to be a longshot. After winning her seat in what was effectively a progressive primary insurgency against a powerful establishment Democrat in 2018, Ocasio-Cortez became the youngest member of Congress and one of the most famous people in the country. Her outspoken brand of Democratic socialism made Ocasio-Cortez public enemy No. 1 to many Republicans. Despite the vehement opposition to Ocasio-Cortez on the right, her House seat was quite safe. The area that makes up the core of her district has not elected a Republican representative for nearly seventy five years.
Forte, on the other hand, was a first-time candidate when she decided to take on Ocasio-Cortez in 2021. She had gained a degree of notoriety online by posting expletive-filled video rants attacking Democrats and COVID restrictions as the pandemic raged in 2020. However, Forte’s social media following would not be enough to unseat the incumbent. Forte lost the 2022 race by more than 40 points.
Even though Forte never seemingly had any real chance at winning, the campaign was a cash cow thanks to Ocasio-Cortez’s high profile and Republican fixation on bringing her down. Federal Election Commission records show Forte received over $1.5 million in contributions from donors in the 2022 cycle. Forte has already launched a challenge to Ocasio-Cortez for 2024 and brought in over $140,000 for that effort.
According to Remauro, Santos was the one who persuaded Forte to take on Ocasio-Cortez. Remauro, who in addition to managing the campaign said she is “very good friends” with Forte, claimed Santos first reached out in early 2021. Forte’s social media buzz had been building and Santos was one year removed from his own first unsuccessful congressional campaign. Remauro said he touted his Republican connections and flattered Forte.
“He called her, and said she was the talk of Mar-a-Lago, and everyone thinks she should run,” Remauro told TPM, recounting what she knew of those initial interactions.
Along with offering encouragement and praise, Santos had an idea for how Forte could run her campaign. Remauro recalled Santos saying he’d “heard of this company that everyone uses” for their races and offering to make an introduction. That company was Red Strategies USA LLC, which was part-owned by Santos’ business and the network of other Florida firms tied to his associates. However, Remauro claims Santos hid those connections as he brought the company into the fold — and the cash flow — of Forte’s race. Florida corporate records show that Red Strategies USA LLC was formed in early May 2021, a few weeks before Forte’s campaign was formally organized in late June.
According to Remauro, Santos arranged an “introductory call” with Marks and ex-Harbor City executive Paul Nicolini, whose firm was part of the network that managed Red Strategies. Remauro, who said she participated in the call, claimed Santos did not disclose to Forte his prior business relationship with Nicolini or his own direct link to Red Strategies.
“That’s what he did on his Zoom. He made like he didn’t know any of the people there,” Remauro said of Santos.
Nicolini did not respond to a request for comment. Marks, who pleaded guilty to a single charge of conspiracy to commit offenses against the United States related to her work on Santos’ campaign earlier this month, also did not respond to a request for comment from TPM.
Forte’s campaign ultimately made more than 76 payments totaling over $110,000 to Red Strategies USA, LLC, during last year’s race for “digital consulting and fundraising” along with “compliance consulting.”
Aspects of Santos’ efforts to get Forte and other candidates to hire Red Strategies without disclosing his own role in the firm have been described in a pair of news articles. The Daily Beast reported in May that Santos “deceived” GOP candidates — including Forte — into hiring Red Strategies. The New York Times detailed some of Remauro’s allegations in July. The paper reported that Forte signed a fundraising agreement with Red Strategies in which the Santos-connected firm would take 80 percent of what it raised.
Nancy Marks, the former Santos campaign treasurer who is owner of one of the other companies that is identified as an authorized member of Red Strategies in corporate filings, was also working as Forte’s treasurer at the time. Over the months that Red Strategies worked for Forte, Marks signed off on campaign finance reports in which tens of thousands of dollars were marked as going to a payment processor.
Remauro told TPM that this was a way of obscuring the more than $110,000 in payments that went from Forte’s campaign to Red Strategies. After she raised the issues, and after Marks departed, the next treasurer corrected the filings, showing that Red Strategies, and not the processor, had in fact received the money. Remauro blamed Marks and Santos for any improprieties that occurred in conjunction with Forte’s campaign.
“Nancy was always the treasurer,” Remauro wrote in an email to TPM. “Once Nancy was gone, which was after the second filing I believe, there were no further issues and everything was legitimate the last I saw.”
As cash flowed from Forte’s campaign into Red Strategies, other executives linked to the firm remained embedded in her operation. Initial Federal Election Commission filings for Forte’s campaign identified her treasurer as DeVaughn Dames, a key figure in Santos’ Florida network who was also linked to a company in the management structure of Red Strategies. However, Remauro said she and Forte had never actually met Dames, who had also been Harbor City’s chief financial officer.
Dames, who did not respond to a request for comment, was subsequently replaced with Marks in an amended filing.
As she started her first campaign, Forte seemed excited about the support she was receiving from Santos. She boasted of her ties to him in a July 2021 podcast appearance.
“I’m working close with George Santos, who’s running,” Forte said. “I just started! This is all new.”
The good feelings apparently did not last. As money went from Forte’s campaign to Red Strategies, Remauro said the operation began to experience financial issues. At one point, Remauro said, she realized she was not being paid. That prompted her to begin digging into the paperwork.
“I wasn’t getting paid on time and they kept telling Tina there was no money in the account to pay me,” Remauro said. “We couldn’t understand how that was possible and so I looked into the FEC filings and saw a lot of errors.”
Forte “flipped out on all of them,” said Remauro, who described the paperwork as “forged” and who outlined her theories about the filing errors in conversations with TPM. The discrepancies, coupled with her belief that Santos had criticized her mother, caused Remauro to have her own blowup with him via text message.
‘You Played Us And Now I’m Furious’
Santos disputed Remauro’s initial text in which she said he “played” Forte and “fucked her campaign up.”
“Yeah. You don’t own the company???” Remauro countered.
“I NEVER said a single bad word about you or your mom!” Santos replied before addressing his involvement in Red Strategies. “I bought 30% of three companies in late august it’s public.”
As the pair argued, Santos continued to dispute that he had disparaged Remauro’s mother. He also defended his business dealings.
“This is BS! I have absolute respect for you mom. And her reputation I always speak highly of her. Who ever said shit to you legit is lying,” Santos wrote, adding, “I’m not that person Jen I’m a business man with a very good reputation for 13 years. … This is horse shit!”
“Are you crazy?” Remauro replied. “You are listed as an owner of red strategies. You told me and tina you didnt even really know then. Stop You played us and now I’m furious.”
The pair continued to go back and forth. Santos offered a series of shifting explanations and denials. At one point, Remauro indicated Santos would have to explain himself to the Federal Election Commission.
“And you now are badgering me,” Santos wrote.
“Nope I’m just laying it out,” Remauro replied, adding, “Tell that to the FEC.”
“Laying out that a business man bought a company?” Santos texted, apparently incredulous. “It’s public knowledge.”
“You played us,” Remauro responded.
Remauro told TPM that she ultimately reported Santos and the issues in the Forte campaign’s financial reports to the Federal Election Commission. An FEC spokesperson told TPM they “would not be able to provide information or comment on potential enforcement matters.”
The Ethics Committee opened an investigation into Santos in March following the revelations that he fabricated elements of his backstory en route to winning his 2022 campaign. That probe was expanded in June after Santos was indicted on a litany of charges including wire fraud, making false statements to Congress, and theft of public funds associated with unemployment benefits. Some of the charges were related to allegations Santos moved his own campaign contributions into his personal accounts.
The panel investigators have “issued over 30 subpoenas and more than 40 voluntary requests for information” related to Santos, and are examining whether he “violated federal conflict of interest laws in connection with his role in a firm providing fiduciary services,” according to a June statement from the committee. The committee declined to comment for this story. Remauro’s planned sitdown with investigators and the committee’s request for information from Forte’s team are the first signs that the House Ethics probe is looking beyond Santos’ own campaign operation and into his links to other candidates.
Santos’ involvement is only one element of the intrigue surrounding Forte’s campaign. Forte’s financial reports were studded with irregularities including repeatedly amended filings and donations attributed to “anonymous.” The reports also show Forte was paid more than $14,000 by her own campaign for “expense reimbursement.” Those issues mirror some of the problems — and alleged grifting — on Santos’ campaign that were detailed in his initial May indictment.
Additionally, in an Oct. 10 superseding indictment, federal prosecutors described a “credit card fraud scheme,” charging Santos with aggravated identity theft over accusations that he made unauthorized charges on donors’ credit cards. TPM was first to report on donors who claimed to have received unauthorized charges from Santos. Some of the same donors have alleged that their money went to Forte’s campaign as well.
The shocking set of allegations and charges has kicked off a high-stakes blame game in Santos’ world. Santos, who did not respond to requests for comment on this story, has pointed the finger at his former campaign treasurer, Nancy Marks for the discrepancies. Marks, who pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy related to her work for Santos earlier this month, has suggested through an attorney that she was “mentally seduced” by Santos.
Graham, Forte’s current campaign manager, suggested Marks was responsible for any issues.
“Nancy Marks was the Treasurer for 2021. We can not verify the work done by Ms. Marks. Ms. Marks was fired by Tina Forte due to her poor performance and we hired a new Treasurer,” Graham wrote in his email to TPM. “The new Treasurer did the best they could with the limited information given by Ms. Marks and had to amend the reports done by Ms. Marks due to many errors. Tina was not made aware of most of what Ms. Marks did and did not even see reports or bank accounts as Ms. Marks would often ignore her requests.”
As he and Remauro sparred on that late night in December 2021, Santos insisted his dealings with the Forte campaign were above board.
“Here’s what’s happening. You think you caught me doing something wrong, while I’m not,” Santos wrote. “And long and behold you are picking a fight with me.”
“I don’t play this shit kid,” Remauro responded. “Stop.”
“I’m not a KID, and I will not continue with this,” Santos said.
“Cause you’re guilty,” Remauro countered.
“This is insane at this hour,” said Santos.
“This is insane that you’re a thief,” Remauro wrote.
“LOL! Good night Lay off the koolaide,” Santos answered. “BLOCKED for that comment alone!”
“Lay off being a liar,” Remauro replied.
The screen grabs provided by Remauro indicate Santos read her message.
He did not send a reply.